THE TEXTBOOK WHICH CHANGED IT ALL—UNDERSTANDING POETRY

Yale University Staff - YACOLF19 Understanding Poetry

“The subject is exceedingly simple; one tenth of it, possibly, may be called ethical; nine tenths, however, appertain to the mathematics” –The Rationale of Verse- EA Poe

If you are reading this, it is almost a certainty that your ideas on poetry have been directly or indirectly shaped by this book. If you have anything to do with American poetry, this brief essay is about you.

England produced some pretty good poets—Milton, Byron, Keats—at a time when Greek and Latin was the only literature taught in school. It wasn’t until Matthew Arnold’s advocacy in the late 19th century and the publication of the widely used school textbook Understanding Poetry (Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, 1938, 1950, 1960, 1976) in the United States, that anything like contemporary poetry actually entered school rooms. In the wake of this crude, hysterical, pistol-shootin’, Southern boy, bombastic, textbook, the most force-fed canon in the history of Letters since the King James bible, the poetry of Longfellow, Poe, Dunbar and Millay, which the public adored, was chased from the academy forever.

The only “professional” poetry, after the appearance of Understanding Poetry, was poetry stamped with the approval of the textbook’s authors and their friends.

The term, “professional,” as used by CIA funded John Crowe Ransom in his essays on what he termed “Criticism, Inc.” or “Criticism, Ltd.,” published at this time, was not meant to elevate the vocation of poetry in general, but to pave the way for a clique’s attempt to separate themselves out as the only authority.

It is a cliché by now to say that everything is political. I will show that the textbook Understanding Poetry was nothing but an embarrassing, slipshod, power grab by a connected bunch of radical cowboys. Understanding Poetry, a nicely-sewn hardcover from Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, is anti-historical, extremely judgmental, and illogical. Nothing about it is actually “professional.”

Understanding Poetry looks at only one poem by Edgar Poe—to mock it.

Here is what it says about “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer’s iconic poem: “This poem has been very greatly admired by a large number of people. But it is a bad poem.”

Adelaide Anne Procter—one of only a few women selected for analysis by the authors (the book is at least 95% male)—is treated this way:

Even though the work of Adelaide Procter, who is known now only as the author of “The Lost Chord,” was once greatly admired by Charles Dickens, most modern readers of poetry would find this poem bad. Most readers who admire it probably do so because they approve of the pious sentiment expressed in it. Such readers go to poetry merely to have their own beliefs and feelings flattered…

The authors are anxious to create a schism in poetry.

The “Red Wheel Barrow” (which they unequivocally praise) contains nothing so obvious as a sentiment or an idea—therefore it is now, within the context of the textbook authors’ mandate, safe to like. It is the authors who sniff out a “pious sentiment” in Procter’s poem, “The Pigrims,” which as a poetry textbook subject, deserves to be treated as a poem. Procter’s poem uses a number of literary elements—rhythm, rhyme, imagery, and contrast in a perfectly competent manner. The problem the “professional” authors have with this poem is their problem: as New Critics, they cannot get beyond the simple fact that every poem under the sun will express either some kind of sentiment (which can be summarized or paraphrased) or none at all. The theme of “The Pilgrims” is: Do not despair: others with God-like stature have it worse than you. The textbook authors go on to call Procter’s poem, and anyone who might enjoy it, “stupid” because the poem, according to them, is not fresh or new.

The problem, however, is that the authors are raising the bar impossibly high. Some themes will always be popular. No completely original poem is possible—the imagination does not create; it must use old material. The complete absence of any sentiment or theme whatsoever, like we find in “The Red Wheel Barrow” or “In a Station of the Metro” (this little poem by Pound is lauded as “new and surprising”) is treated by Brooks/Warren as achieving a transcendence of sorts—nothing is preferable to something, due to the New Critics’ hostility to paraphrase. For Brooks/Warren, random imagery sans theme wins them over (especially when produced by a member of their clique) as “new” and “fresh.” Most everything else is cliché or doggerel.

Rhythm gets no close analysis from the authors, even though this element divides poetry from prose; they only express the opinion that too much of it is a bad thing (their reason for condemning “Ulalume”).

The poems they champion are those which are as close as possible to prose—and have no discernible sentiment—thus their keen interest in poems of mayhem and gore treated disinterestedly. The poetry of Poe these critics of poetry reject, while, ironically, embracing the popular trope of Poe’s fiction.

The authors bar most of the poetry canon and replace it with examples written by their friends. The safe filler of the book consists of misplaced canon-material tucked away into chapters in a way that fails to tease out what is most important about them. Poems of metrical excellence are put into chapters on “Tone” and “Descriptive Poems.”

We might conclude that by dismissing Adelaide Procter’s Christian poem, the authors felt too many Christians were reading too many bad Christian poems—one can surely understand this as a legitimate concern; the authors, however, don’t print good Christian poems in the canon by way of comparison; their sincerity extends only as far as scorning “pious sentiment” in a single poem and leaving it at that. Dante, Petrarch, and the entire “Divine Eros” tradition—and all romance, love or religious poetic traditions—are left out of the book altogether.

The question one expects a textbook to ask is: how should a poem best express a sentiment? A poetry textbook shouldn’t be involved in policing or curbing the sentiments themselves—especially those which are world historical and immensely popular. The authors, crusty, secular, and outspoken in the extreme, cannot help themselves. They plead for neutrality, as a matter of principle, but cheer for some sentiments over others throughout the book—and the problem is compounded by their failure to recognize that sentiment manifests itself in a host of unspoken ways. They seem to think poems are able to escape sentiment (which they generally believe is bad) simply by not being overtly sentimental. Thus they think depicting a red wheel barrow is not sentimental—which it horribly is. This particular error in taste infects nearly all of their judgments.

Curiously, they don’t even mention haiku—dare I assume it’s because they’re anxious to champion their friends Pound and Williams and their haiku-like poems, lavished with epithets “fresh” and “new?”

The book as a whole is not only filled with strange hit-and-miss assertions, it reeks of chummy provincialism. The advertising is deeply off—they call their text Understanding Poetry, not, as they should, Understanding the New American Poetry.

In their introduction, the authors, a couple of yahoos from the South (members of a Tennessee gang called the Fugitives, and later the New Critics) quote a Longfellow poem, and in the spirit of Poe, without mentioning the master, fault the Longfellow poem, “A Psalm of Life,” as crudely didactic. These boys, Brooks and Warren, ain’t playin’ around.

“This poem seems to give a great deal of good advice.”

Imagine this said in a bar somewhere in the deep South after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Massachusetts has taken a seat and is looking around.

“But granting that the advice is good advice, [here Brooks and Warren look at each other and grin] we can still ask [they move closer to Longfellow] whether or not the poem is a good poem.”

After appearing on pg. 8 of this 584 page textbook (third edition) with this one poem, America’s favorite poet, Longfellow, is never seen again.

Edna Millay, Dorothy Parker, and all the women who dominated English and American poetry after Byron, out-selling the men during those decades, never quite appear in Understanding Poetry. Not so, H.D., Pound’s one-time girlfriend—she has two of her poems discussed. The Pound clique is carefully promoted, side by side, with the New Critic circle—the American wing of Pound’s Modernist operation.

“The poet is a man speaking to men.” Wordsworth, a tough son of a bitch who hiked a lot, states the central theme of the book’s introduction.

After the “message-hunting” of Longfellow readers is dismissed, the authors quickly deny the “emotion and sensation” school. The taste of an apple, or a good cry, is better in real life. Poetry can’t compete with these, the authors say. Fair enough, and so far within their introduction the authors are doing okay.

What about “fine sentiments in fine language?” Now we are in the realm of their fellow southerner, Poe. In a word, Beauty. Or as Brooks and Warren put it, “a poem as simply a bundle of melodious word-combinations and pretty pictures.”

The authors straighten their spines and lift up their chins.

No.

Brooks/Warren are sure of that. None of that pretty, elegant stuff.

The authors quote Hamlet: “whips and scorns of time…the law’s delay…To grunt and sweat under a weary life…”

For Brooks and Warren “grunt and sweat” demonstrates that “great” poetry doesn’t need to be pretty or elegant. This proves it.

No doubt the entire passage (Hamlet’s famous To Be or Not To Be speech) taken as a whole, could be called an example of “fine sentiments in fine language,” even if some parts are not absolutely beautiful; certainly the Hamlet speech meets the standard of the sublime—which Poe would gladly substitute for beauty, as would all his Romantic brothers and sisters.

But the authors are adamant: Get the pansies out of here. Poetry ain’t got no part of the ‘greeable and we have shown that to everyone’s satisfaction!

Once they have acquainted their readers with the rude depictions and harsh emotions of “drama” in the hands of Master Grunt & Sweat Will Shakespeare, there is no turning back for these gentlemen from Tennessee. The die is cast. They fire their pistols not only into the ceiling but into the gas lamps—and burn down the tavern. Official Verse Culture is leveled—thanks to Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. A genuine American poetry (something resembling the prose poems of William Carlos Williams and the newspaper clipping rants of Whitman and Pound) will be erected in its place.

Poetry, per the violence of these professors, will do violence to the old order and every sensitive mind.

Brooks/Warren go on to assert: “The relationship of the elements in a poem is what is all important,” a truism, really—a piece of pedantry intended to soften their final conclusion:

Poetry isn’t poetry. According to the authors it’s “drama.” Woo hooo! Damn straight!

The summary to their introduction over the dead bodies of Beauty, Message, and Sensation, in their own words:

“But the fundamental points, namely, that poetry has a basis in common human interests, that the poet is a man speaking to men, and that every poem is at center, a little drama, must not be forgotten at the beginning of any attempt to study poetry.”

Admittedly, at first blush, this does sound pretty sensible. Poetry as dramatic speech. Even Dana Gioia, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Samuel Johnson, and lords Tennyson and Byron might agree.

The “drama” does have much to recommend it; however, the erosion of poetry begins with the assigning of elements to poetry—which exist and can be much better developed or made the object of applause—elsewhere. Can poetry compete with mediums or genres better equipped to envelop audiences in the dramatic—whether it’s videos of street fights on You Tube, popular music, TV, film, or Drama (theater) itself?

The introduction must be judged largely a failure. Yes, it does make sense that one cannot eat a poem like an apple, and a poem should belong to “common human interests” (as opposed to the interests of turtles) and speech does play a large role, obviously, in poetry.

And “drama,” if we stretch out the definition, (recall the authors praise the ‘Red Wheel Barrow’ at some length) can certainly vaguely denote the art.

But why exclude, as the authors do, emotion? Or “fine sentiments in fine language?”

Elsewhere in the book’s introduction, a close reading of Troilus and Cressida—naturally calling on Shakespeare as often as possible to prove their poetry-as-drama thesis—Brooks/Warren write:

“The images of the first five lines, as we have seen, are closely bound together to define a certain attitude.”

Notice how they are precisely imprecise. Defining poetry as “drama,”—and yet eschewing both emotion and what they call “beautiful statement of some high truth,”—they walk an insane tightrope of delicate inference: “images….which define a certain attitude” is how they manage to evade both strong feeling and truth— neither of which, apparently, is allowed.

But “drama” without “fine language or sentiment” is the trope they are going with.

Introducing the first chapter of the book, Narrative Poems, they begin in the following way—and notice the examples they provide:

“We have said that the ‘stuff of poetry’ is not something separate from the ordinary business of living, but itself inheres in that business. We hear someone say that a farm boy has suffered a fatal accident while cutting a block of wood with a buzz-saw; or we read in the newspaper that a woman has shot her sweetheart; or we remember that there was once an outlaw from Missouri named Jesse James who was killed by treachery.”

Poetry instruction as Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.

Imagine millions of HS and college students introduced to poetry defined this way.

Dante compared poetry to a love letter.

The Understanding Poetry authors want poetry to compete with murder stories in newspapers.

Good luck with that.

They are determined to rid poetry, once and for all, of “fine sentiments and fine language.”

These are some scary New Critic outlaws who have rolled into town!

Robert Frost, fresh with a host of Pulitzer prizes, is all too ready to assist them.

Understanding Poetry, for the first time in Academia, makes the swimming pool safe for living poets, as friends of the authors are welcomed into the canon of their textbook, provided with free towels and bathing suits. Come on in, Wheel Barrow! The water’s fine!

If you are Edward Arlington Robinson, Joyce Kilmer, Edna Millay, Edgar Poe, or any number of classic poets from outside England or New England, careful. There’s sharks.

Frost is a perfect guest: old, respectable, a genuinely good poet, and, most importantly, still alive. Living poets (even if they are mediocre) can now be read next to the dead greats. As long as they are fortunate enough to know the textbook authors. The living Robert Frost was iconic enough to make good cover for this move. Today we take such gambits very much for granted, since “the new” is now the pragmatic norm in poetry studies.

There are 6 Chapters in Understanding Poetry; the first one, as mentioned, is Narrative Poems, (murder ballads, mostly) followed by 2. Descriptive Poems, (the silliest kind of poetry is descriptive—strange this gets its own chapter) 3. Metrics, 4. Tone (this is where Ulalume is savaged), 5. Imagery (another word for Descriptive. By now it feels the chapter categories of Understanding Poetry lack a certain sense), and finally, 6. Theme: Statement and Idea.

The theme of Understanding Poetry itself: real life horror, articulated plainly and without sentiment, steps to the fore in the first chapter—Narrative Poems.

The first poem under observation is Robert Frost’s “Out, Out—” a poem I never wish to read again; the poem concerns a Vermont village boy’s buzz-saw accident in front of his sister as she calls him into supper; the boy dies that night in the hospital; the whole thing is described in a chillingly matter-of-fact manner, for the maximum horror-effect, apparently. Frost was experimenting with something—will simple description heighten the horror of a horrible event? Whether or not it succeeds as a poem, the authors only know it is the one they want to set the tone of their book.

The last four lines of “Out, Out—“, a poem of 35 lines:

No one believed. They listened at his heart.

Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

Whatever stoic virtue the poem has doesn’t save it. The poem is a monstrosity; but in their mission to define poetry as whatever lacks feeling, while cultivating general human interest with just the right combination of images, the authors consider this poem pure gold.

After “Out, Out—,” we get a bunch of anonymous murder ballads, in which the authors praise the ballad’s ability to condense a story—as it “shows” instead of “tells,” a great virtue, according to the authors, who forget they have defined poetry as “speech.” Poetry can only “show” by telling—the truism that it is better for poems to “show” is a nullity. To tell ironically is the closest a poem can come to “showing,” which it never actually does. Imagists fall into great error on this point.

The Narrative Poem chapter also includes 3 poems by A.E. Housman—the authors seem to prefer him to Longfellow because Housman is a secular Longfellow; “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree” is a decent ballad, meeting the authors approval with plenty of tragedy, blood, and stoicism. “Hell Gate” by Housman has nothing to recommend it; the story is muddled and its music uninspired. The authors write, “We feel immediately that we are not dealing with salvation in the Christian sense.” Perhaps this is why they selected this mediocre poem? The third Housman poem, “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” is praised because the authors recommend its cynical message (every soldier only fights for “pay;”). Longfellow is not allowed to articulate a theme, but apparently Housman is.

I’m not sure why the authors don’t include Poe’s ballad “Ulalume” in the “ballad” chapter; they confine themselves almost entirely to anonymous ballads, and when they briefly discuss “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” at the end of the chapter, they make the mistake of saying that Keats is “using the pretense of ballad simplicity,” as they assume that here we have a “modern poem” pretending to be an authentic ballad. Keats died in 1822. When do the authors think “Frankie and Johnny” was composed? The very essence of the subject seems to elude them.

A naval engagement from “Song of Myself” is the soaring highlight of Chapter One. There’s not much of a story told, but the authors enthuse over seemingly irrelevant “details,” and the following makes them especially happy:

“The hiss of the surgeon’s knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw,/Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull, tapering groan…”

In the Afterwards to Chapter One the authors admit they have a problem:

“Indeed, it is not easy, except in regard to the use of verse, to make an absolute distinction between poetry and prose fiction.”

Poetry, they say, has “concentration,” “sharpness of selected detail,” “appeal to the imagination” and “intensity.”

These are too vague to mean very much.

What can be going through the minds of the students forced to read this textbook?

Chapter Two, Descriptive Poems, begins with an assault on a chestnut by Robert Browning, as the authors continue their scorched earth policy against “Official Verse Culture.” Actually, they do make an interesting observation: “mood” and “thought” are often the same. Whether Browning brought the authors into a temporary state of sanity, it is not certain. In the last comment on the Browning, the authors write: one critic felt this poem sucks. Do you agree? It’s OK. Browning will survive.

The Descriptive Poems chapter (Two) is a nod, after the “ballads” chapter (One) to poetry as a rather simple art form—resembling fiction, just more condensed.

Language does not interest our authors, nor aesthetics, nor the Socratic, nor epistemology, nor philosophies of composition, nor fancy v imagination, nor cultural or social content, nor anything beyond things like:

“A lively sense of the perceptible world with its sights, sounds, and smells, is fundamental to poetry.”

Chapter Two devolves into poems about the seasons; Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, and T.S. Eliot (“The Preludes”) go to kindergarten. Along the way, a couple of H.D. poems, Pound’s petals on a bough poem (lovingly discussed) and the following poem (quoted in full) by James Stephens, “The Main-Deep:”

The long rolling,
Steady-pouring,
Deep-trenched
Green billow;

The wide-topped,
Unbroken,
Green-glacid,
Slow-sliding,

Cold-flushing,
On—on—on—
Chill-rushing,
Hush-hushing,

Hush-hushing…

This poem fills the authors with wonder. They discuss it at length, quoting approvingly the line “Hush-hushing.” They consider the poem splendid—and write solemnly on it. The author was a close friend of Joyce.

By the time we reach page 119 and chapter 3 Metrics, it is no surprise that Brooks/Warren embrace T.S. Eliot’s strange assertion that prose scans—and therefore poetry and rhythmical language really don’t have much to do with each other.

“What is poetry?” we might ask at this point.

The authors only know what it is not. It is not iambic pentameter. The following, they say, is iambic pentameter, and this is not poetry:

A Mr. Wilkerson, a clergyman.

This pretty much sums up the metrics lesson of Chapter Three.

I’d like to end this look at Understanding Poetry with their take on Metrics, because I think their attitude towards formalism is where they do the most damage, but I’ll sum up Chapters Four, Five, and Six, first.

Chapter Four, “Tone,” is the chapter where we find things by E.E. Cummings and the textbook’s comedic poems (Ogden Nash); and this is where “Ulalume” is treated comically and slaughtered. After “Ulalume” is killed off, the authors reprint “Luke Havergal” by Edwin Arlington Robinson and “Voices” by Walter de La Mare with little comment, implying these two poems are failures as well, mostly because of their exaggerated rhythm, and then, accompanied by a great deal of earnest laudation, Brooks/Warren offer their colleague Jonh Crowe Ransom’s poem, “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,” a poem which revels in a child’s death—describing her in its final (rhyming with “stopped”) line: “Lying so primly propped.”

The next poem is “After the Burial” by James Russell Lowell (the 19th century is generally not favored by the authors). The end of Lowell’s poem:

That little shoe in the corner,
So worn and wrinkled and brown,
With its emptiness confutes you,
And argues your wisdom down.

Here’s what the authors say about Lowell’s poem: “Many readers have found this poem disturbing. They find it disturbing because, on one hand, they know that it was written as the expression of a deep personal grief, and on the other hand, they think it is a bad poem.”

Chapter Five (Imagery) is where they put Tennyson, Hart Crane, Marvell, Donne, Auden, and Dickinson—who seems to be the only woman poet the authors can stomach, besides H.D. and Marianne Moore—she was included in the final “Poems for Study” section—no commentary)—two women belonging to Pound’s clique.

Chapter Six—“Theme: Statement and Idea” features still another poem by Housman, George Meredith, Donne, and finishes up with heavy-hitters: 3 well-known poems by Frost, Gray’s “Elegy,” Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” Blake’s “London,” Emerson’s “Brahma,” “The Force That Through the Green Fuse” by Dylan Thomas, Eliot’s “Prufrock,” (with a long, respectful, discussion), Melville, Jarrell, Yeats (and a long discussion), “Shine, Perishing Republic,” by Robinson Jeffers, “The Return” by John Peale Bishop (similar in theme to the Jeffers—no patriotic songs or poems in this book!) and finally “Kubla Kahn,” “Lycidas,” and “Nightingale” (a long discussion) and “Urn” by Keats.

Our New Critic authors do select some powerhouses of “Official Verse Culture,” (necessary if their textbook is to have any weight at all) but it’s clear their intention is to destroy it—by their omissions, their commentary, and the careful organization of their themed chapters. All in all, a very clever hit job. The book also had to make their friends, such as Ezra Pound, WC Williams, and John Crowe Ransom, very happy, indeed.

On page 151, a single line by the otherwise excluded Millay, in a onomatopoeia discussion in the Metrics chapter, is mocked by John Crowe Ransom. This must have given the boys in the office a good chuckle.

Millay’s line: “Comfort, softer than the feathers of its breast.”

Ransom: “Crumpets for the foster-fathers of the brats.”

The first purpose of Understanding Poetry is to prove the authors’ paramount notion—poetry is 95% prose meaning and 5% poetic effect. An interesting idea—like saying a person missing a face is still a person.

Their higher purpose seems to be to replace poetry of the working and middle classes and esteemed by professorial verse-expertise and inspired by a love of verse in general, with the “new” poetry written by their friends. This intent is perhaps more difficult to prove—though it coincides with the first purpose above—and reading this book, what is one to think?

“The Blindness of Samson” by Milton is quoted—the metrical variation of iambic and trochee in the first five lines is pointed out—but I still can’t help but laugh at the ‘buried alive’ (in blindness) theme—the authors, throughout the book, in their poetry selections, are uncommonly fixated on macabre fiction strategies of Poe—even as they reject Poe, the poet.

Brooks/Warren, in the Metrics chapter, fully quote another Milton poem, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont,” featuring “martyred blood” and “Mother and infant” tossed from cliffs—pointing out this poem has “precisely the same rhyme scheme” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?”

Really? One has to wonder: are the authors critics or sadists?

They don’t discuss stanza forms—the pinnacle of verse mastery. They do, at least, because it is such a popular trope—thanks to poets like Shelley, Poe, and Alexander Pope—pay some attention to “sound and sense,” but why they feel compelled to compare a famous love poem with a massacre poem simply due to a similar rhyme scheme is just bizarre.

There is more torture of sorts when they discuss the metrics of Milton and Barrett in the following manner:

“To sum up, we may say that the relation of rhetorical pauses to the line pauses of a stanza provides a principle of vital vibration analogous to that provided by the relation of rhetorical accent to metrical accent.”

Got that?

There are different kinds of pauses.

Actually, no. Verse contains only one kind of pause. Speakers, yes, can interpret pauses as wildly as they choose—but this does not alter the verse as written.

“Vital vibration” sounds like something which might inspire the daft Charles Olson and the whole nutty avant school, which hears things in the ether– poetry to neither you nor I, but to them alone.

“After Long Silence” by Yeats (a rare modern who could pull off verse—Auden and Larkin the youngest poets who fit that mold) is reprinted, followed by two difficult sonnets of Shakespeare, Hardy, Ben Johnson,Cowper, Hopkins—not the greatest examples of metrical excellence, frankly, especially for a student exposed to the blurry pedagogy of the authors, but this is all in preparation, no doubt, for the final act of the Metrics chapter: a lengthy commentary on two free verse poems by William Carlos Williams. “By the road to the contagious hospital” and “The Red Wheel Barrow,” including a revisit of “Pear Tree” by H.D.

The authors’ conclusion is that “free verse” is, indeed “verse”—in every sense of the word.

Need I say more?

Thomas Graves, Salem MA

THE ONE HUNDRED GREATEST POEMS BY WOMEN

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Feminist Author of The Yellow Wallpaper

This is a silly idea. Why a list of women poets? Is this because I like poetry—or women?

And if I made such a list—let’s say the top 100 poems, wouldn’t half the poems be Emily Dickinson’s?

What would this do for equity and equality?

If there are differences between men and women—and if poetry is humankind’s most delicate and subtle expression, why are there no means to tell whether or not a poem—by its poetry—has been written by a man or a woman?

There is a far greater gulf between a 19th century poet and a 20th century poet or between Emily Dickinson (b. 1830) and her ‘hearts and flowers’ peers than between men and women poets.

How, then, would a list of women poets mean anything at all?

There are two reasons yet standing which might urge one to compose such a list.

Women poets have been neglected—and here is a way to honor them.

The topic or POV chosen for a poem is not insignificant—could this, at least to some degree, define women’s poetry?

The Romantic poets, by confining poetry to certain universal topics—nature, love, subjective feeling—tended to put men and women into the same poetic box, the same hill, the same wood. Was this a good thing? A subtle trick to bring man into woman’s more sensitive and tender orbit and to break down the walls between the two? Perhaps Romanticism knew what it was doing!

As I peruse an old anthology of “Great Poems by American Women” (dutifully following footsteps) I am struck by this: many neglected women poets wrote fantastic stanzas—and yet there are too many flaws in the poem as a whole to be remarkable. Emily Dickinson was wise, I think, to make her poems brief—genius often comes in short bursts—brevity is no reason to doubt the genius. I would hate to see beautiful stanzas by forgotten poets languish, so perhaps the best thing is to highlight greatness wherever I find it, and not worry about the “greatest poems.”

Many forgotten sisters were as good as Dickinson—but in stanzas alone. And women, especially in the 19th century, also wrote many great but slightly imperfect poems.

I will plunge forward, then, at random, and collect a few lights before they fade.

I think I will begin with Sara Teasdale (b. 1884) who is not entirely neglected, but does not enjoy real fame. It might be because she does not have a striking biography. Certainly very few are talking about Sarah Teasdale. You can tell us of your Sappho or Emily Dickinson, but look at these two poems by Teasdale. Are they not moving in the extreme?

The Kiss

I hoped that he would love me,
And he has kissed my mouth,
But I am like a stricken bird
That cannot reach the south.

For though I know he loves me,
To-night my heart is sad;
His kiss was not so wonderful
As all the dreams I had.

I Shall Not Care

When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Though you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.

I shall have peace as leafy trees are peaceful,
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.

“I Shall Not Care” represents perhaps the highest perfection of the art. The intention fits the result, and as we dreamily fall towards the result rhythmic beauty abounds.

Christina Rossetti, a wonderful 19th century poet from England, has a poem similar in theme to “I Shall Not Care” and it is very beautiful. It would surely make the list, as well. My guess is that three quarters of the list would be 19th century poets; women poets (especially in America) dominated the 19th century. I wonder why?

The first stanza of Sarah Teasdale’s “The Kiss” lacks a subtle rhythm and the transition from I was ‘kissed on the mouth’ to ‘I am a stricken bird’ feels a bit jarring but the poet is saying a great deal in 8 lines and the poem as a whole succeeds wonderfully, I think. “As all the dreams I had” says so much.

The following poem of two stanzas by Charlotte Perkins Gilman has a much wider sweep; it does not belong to the canon but perhaps it should:

A Common Inference

A night: mysterious, tender, quiet, deep;
Heavy with flowers; full of life asleep;
Thrilling with insect voices; thick with stars;
No cloud between the dewdrops and red Mars;
The small earth whirling softly on her way,
The moonbeams and the waterfalls at play;
A million million worlds that move in peace,
A million mighty laws that never cease;
And one small ant-heap, hidden by small weeds,
Rich with eggs, slaves, and store of millet seeds.
        They sleep beneath the sod
             And trust in God.

A day: all glorious, royal, blazing bright;
Heavy with flowers; full of life and light;
Great fields of corn and sunshine; courteous trees;
Snow-sainted mountains; earth-embracing seas;
Wide golden deserts; slender silver streams;
Clear rainbows where the tossing fountain gleams;
And everywhere, in happiness and peace,
A million forms of life that never cease;
And one small ant-heap, crushed by passing tread,
Hath scarce enough alive to mourn the dead!
        They shriek beneath the sod,
            “There is no God!”


There are millions of poets who have never written a work as fully realized as “A Common Inference” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Her poetry in general is spoiled by an inclination for the didactic—but this poem should be high on any list.

We might as well get right to this and print the following without further ado as perhaps the greatest sonnet ever written:

Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.

The author is Edna Millay, who has a gossipy biography, but wrote many selfless and timeless poems.

America really was given its song by women. Poe dedicated his Poems 1845 to Elizabeth Barrett. Once the era of Byron was over, the women took over poetry. Julia Ward Howe (b. 1819) wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

How many know that “America the Beautiful” was written by a woman? Here is the final stanza of the poem by Katherine Lee Bates (b. 1859):

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

And this, too, was written by a woman:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus (b. 1849) joins the company of women who gave us soaring rhetoric—the highest pinnacle of sublime expression actually belongs to women.

“The New Colossus” and “Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare” are similar; both, strangely and magnificently, recall Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (“two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert”).

It is no exaggeration to say that women poets dominated the late 19th century and early 20th centuries to such an extent that the Pound/Williams “revolution” nearly obliterated the stunning decades of women’s lyric accomplishment. Any success which that “revolution” may have had depended a great deal on making women feel ashamed that their glory was merely an imitation of Shelley, Thomas Moore, Byron and Poe.

Two things had to happen at once. Pound and Williams had to gain readers for themselves (obviously) but those readers first needed to be convinced that Shelley, Byron, and Poe were less than satisfactory. TS Eliot (loyally ran interference for Pound—who introduced Eliot to poetry society) viciously trashed Shelley and Poe (the melancholy Eliot possessed an iron fist). Eliot was the smoother and more talented enforcer of Pound’s rather crackpot ambitions.

The women poets of Pound’s day (and somewhat earlier) are forgotten—or dismissed as hopelessly sentimental—which if you read their best work is absolutely not true, even if we insist that any kind of sentiment is always bad. Marianne Moore was the one prominent, praised, female in the Modernist men’s club, and she wrote explicitly against the beautiful poetry which elevated her sisters:

“You do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability…” opens Moore’s odd poem, “Roses Only,” and she continues without irony in a prose lecture, ending, “Your thorns are the best part of you.” O mind of ice! She belonged to the Eliot/Williams/Pound clique, and one can see why. Ted Hughes reported that Moore did not hide the fact that she preferred him to Sylvia. Why am I not surprised? Plath’s “Daddy” would of course be on the list, as well as a poem or two by Sexton, who was just as good as Plath. I find Moore insufferable and she would not make my list. Bishop, anointed by Moore, I’m told, would make the list with “The Fishhouses.” That description of the cold water!

In Poe’s lecture, popular in its day, finally published as “The Poetic Principle,” in which Poe famously warns against both the “long poem” and the “didactic poem,” the first poem the Virginian quotes for praise is by Shelley; Poe also quotes approvingly Thomas Moore, Byron, and Tennyson.

One can see how mainstream poetry criticism once judged poetry—simply by quoting Poe’s “Poetic Principle:”

“The rhythmical flow, here, is even voluptuous—nothing could be more melodious.”

“The versification, although carrying the fanciful to the very verge of the fantastic, is nevertheless admirably adapted to the wild insanity which is the thesis of the poem.”

Sara Teasdale’s “I Shall Not Care” exemplifies the kind of poem Poe praised—he was especially keen on contrast: for instance, between the happy, oblivious, life just above the grave and the grave. Teasdale’s “though you should lean above me broken-hearted,/I shall not care” aches with the moral drama Poe loved.

The Pound/Williams revolution had to get rid of all of this. With a manifesto or two, they did. Flowery doggerel fell without a fight. The best of the rest is barely hanging on.

Let’s quote the first stanza of Mary Ashley Townsend’s “Creed,” which goes on for seven uneven stanzas. This is glorious:

I believe if I should die,
And you should kiss my eyelids when I lie
Cold, dead, and dumb to all the world contains,
The folded orbs would open at thy breath,
And, from its exile in the isles of death,
Life would come gladly back along my veins.

I said Emily Dickinson chose well to make her poems brief. 19th century poets who composed musically took risks—the smallest metrical lapses can ruin poems committed to formalist and musical strategies, and the longer your poem is, the more it has a chance of being ruined by mistakes, even subtle ones—it’s the difference between a long foul ball and a home run.

But Dickinson embraced more than brevity. Unity exists in Dickinson, too.

Harriet Monroe (b. 1860) has a brief poem:

A Farewell

Good-by: nay, do not grieve that it is over—
The perfect hour;
That the winged joy, sweet honey-loving rover,
Flits from the flower.

Grieve not,—it is the law. Love will be flying—
Yea, love and all.
Glad was the living; blessed be the dying!
Let the leaves fall.

This is a compressed lyric on a melancholy subject but still manages to be wordy and matter-of-fact: “it is the law,” “Let the leaves fall.” To describe a bee with this many words: “the winged joy, sweet honey-loving rover” is a bit much.

“A Farewell” is an accomplished poem. To write a poem of this type may look easy, but it is not.

Harriet Monroe is not known for her poetry, but for founding Poetry magazine and knowing Pound. Gradually the journal Poetry stopped publishing poetry like Teasdale’s. Today the magazine is unreadable.

Now let us look at Dickinson:

I Never Saw A Moor

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.

Emily doesn’t waste words—her poem makes Harriet’s poem sound like a lengthy treatise by comparison.

Emily’s poem is mystical and personal—I know nothing, but I know.

Harriet’s poem is impersonal and this makes it weaker; often I hear the “lyric I” faulted—one might as well fault the lyric itself.

Speaking of faulting the lyric itself, the Modernist revolution of WC Williams and Ezra Pound demanded that hard, impersonal, thing-ism replace Romantic sentimentality—banished forever was the German Romantic poet Goethe’s “Eternal Feminine.” Song, feeling, and beauty had to go.

A poet is always looking for irony to elevate simple passion and sentiment—it’s a common sense strategy for all writers. Only the most reckless, French Revolution radical, in a manic frenzy and bleeding from the eyes, would eliminate passion and sentiment from the process itself, since feeling is the very ground of all human expression. Once thing-ism becomes the decree, anything associated with feeling must be cast aside; once feeling is banished, hundreds of poetic attributes associated with feeling are (passionately!) banished, as well.

But of course feeling was not banished forever. How can it be? At the very worst, the Pound/Williams revolution and its various obscure camp followers was only a corrective, a turning away from the excesses of Romantic rhyme and sentimentality. This is how it was, and still, is generally seen. The fact is, Williams and Pound as poets themselves are not very remarkable and their revolution was really not influential except that it provided license to a host of bad prose poets. 20th century poets succeeded in spite of Pound and Williams (and M. Moore) and this is the truth. We need not trouble ourselves over Pound and Williams.

There was one great drawback of High Modernism, however:—for poetry, especially—it discouraged the Romantic, formalist template, which was never, in itself a bad thing. Poetry can expand without murdering; if metrical skill is not encouraged and admired, what happens to it? As a skill not easily attained in the first place, it begins to disappear. And those not skillful at all rush in to be crowned as the poet involved in a different kind of difficulty, one that puts off readers—yet pleases certain critics of questionable talent defined by large ambition and their friendships—with these same less than talented poets.

Poetry certainly did embrace personal feelings even as the 20th century, beating back Romanticism in a fashionable fit, went on. If you can’t talk in rhyme, like a Wordsworth or a Byron, if you aren’t that one in a million Millay or Frost who has the talent to talk in rhyme, well then of course you start expressing yourself passionately in prose. When metrical skill finally stopped being a pre-requisite in the late 20th century, the entire scene began to fill up with bad rhyming poets, really difficult prose poets and Billy Collins. This was probably worse than the 19th century which had good rhyming poems, bad rhyming poems, and good prose—which people were generally wary of calling poetry.

But it’s no use in crying over spilled milk. Poets are ultimately responsible for themselves.

Let me copy “The Drowned Mariner” by Elizabeth Oakes-Smith (b.1806)

A MARINER sat on the shrouds one night;
    The wind was piping free;
Now bright, now dimmed was the moon-light pale,
And the phosphor gleamed in the wake of the whale,
    As he floundered in the sea;        
The scud was flying athwart the sky,
The gathering winds went whistling by,
And the wave as it towered, then fell in spray,
Looked an emerald wall in the moonlight ray.

The mariner swayed and rocked on the mast,        
    But the tumult pleased him well;
Down the yawning wave his eye he cast,
And the monsters watched as they hurried past
    Or lightly rose and fell;
For their broad, damp fins were under the tide,      
And they lashed as they passed the vessel’ s side,
And their filmy eyes, all huge and grim,
Glared fiercely up, and they glared at him.

Now freshens the gale, and the brave ship goes
    Like an uncurbed steed along;        
A sheet of flame is the spray she throws,
As her gallant prow the water ploughs,
    But the ship is fleet and strong:
The topsails are reefed and the sails are furled,
And onward she sweeps o’ er the watery world,        
And dippeth her spars in the surging flood;
But there came no chill to the mariner’ s blood.

Wildly she rocks, but he swingeth at ease,
    And holds him by the shroud;
And as she careens to the crowding breeze,        
The gaping deep the mariner sees,
    And the surging heareth loud.
Was that a face, looking up at him,
With its pallid cheek and its cold eyes dim?
Did it beckon him down? did it call his name?        
Now rolleth the ship the way whence it came.

The mariner looked, and he saw with dread
    A face he knew too well;
And the cold eyes glared, the eyes of the dead,
And its long hair out on the wave was spread.        
    Was there a tale to tell?
The stout ship rocked with a reeling speed,
And the mariner groaned, as well he need;
For, ever, down as she plunged on her side,
The dead face gleamed from the briny tide.        

Bethink thee, mariner, well, of the past,—
    A voice calls loud for thee:—
There’ s a stifled prayer, the first, the last;—
The plunging ship on her beam is cast,—
    Oh, where shall thy burial be?        
Bethink thee of oaths that were lightly spoken,
Bethink thee of vows that were lightly broken,
Bethink thee of all that is dear to thee,
For thou art alone on the raging sea:

Alone in the dark, alone on the wave,        
    To buffet the storm alone,
To struggle aghast at thy watery grave,
To struggle and feel there is none to save,—
    God shield thee, helpless one!
The stout limbs yield, for their strength is past,        
The trembling hands on the deep are cast,
The white brow gleams a moment more,
Then slowly sinks—the struggle is o’ er.

Down, down where the storm is hushed to sleep,
    Where the sea its dirge shall swell,        
Where the amber drops for thee shall weep,
And the rose-lipped shell her music keep,
    There thou shalt slumber well.
The gem and the pearl lie heaped at thy side,
They fell from the neck of the beautiful bride,        
From the strong man’s hand, from the maiden’ s brow,
As they slowly sunk to the wave below.

A peopled home is the ocean bed;
    The mother and child are there;
The fervent youth and the hoary head,        
The maid, with her floating locks outspread,
    The babe with its silken hair;
As the water moveth they lightly sway,
And the tranquil lights on their features play;
And there is each cherished and beautiful form,      
Away from decay, and away from the storm.

Elizabeth Oakes-Smith was popular in her day and also lectured and wrote plays. She made the claim after Poe’s death that his death was due to a physical assault, a claim which history has mostly ignored.

“The Drowned Mariner” has the high feeling and passion which Williams and Pound sought to eliminate—but this 20th century poem by Marilyn Chin also has strong feelings, and of a more personal nature:

How I Got That Name

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g
of “becoming.”  Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paperson
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn.”
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn’t pronounce the “r.”
She dubbed me “Numba one female offshoot”
for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die
in sublime ignorance, flanked
by loving children and the “kitchen deity.”
While my father dithers,
a tomcat in Hong Kong trash—
a gambler, a petty thug,
who bought a chain of chopsuey joints
in Piss River, Oregon,
with bootlegged Gucci cash.
Nobody dared question his integrity given
his nice, devout daughters
and his bright, industrious sons
as if filial piety were the standard
by which all earthly men are measured.

*

Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,
how thrifty our sons!
How we’ve managed to fool the experts
in education, statistic and demography—
We’re not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.
Indeed, they can use us.
But the “Model Minority” is a tease.
We know you are watching now,
so we refuse to give you any!
Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!
The further west we go, we’ll hit east;
the deeper down we dig, we’ll find China.
History has turned its stomach
on a black polluted beach—
where life doesn’t hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of “Santa Barbara”
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a “bitch.”
Oh God, where have we gone wrong?
We have no inner resources!

*

Then, one redolent spring morning
the Great Patriarch Chin
peered down from his kiosk in heaven
and saw that his descendants were ugly.
One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge
Another’s profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one
may never, never marry.
And I, his least favorite—
“not quite boiled, not quite cooked,”
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—
too listless to fight for my people’s destiny.
“To kill without resistance is not slaughter”
says the proverb.  So, I wait for imminent death.
The fact that this death is also metaphorical
is testament to my lethargy.

*

So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin,
married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong,
granddaughter of Jack “the patriarch”
and the brooding Suilin Fong,
daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong
and G.G. Chin the infamous,
sister of a dozen, cousin of a million,
survived by everybody and forgotten by all.
She was neither black nor white,
neither cherished nor vanquished,
just another squatter in her own bamboo grove
minding her poetry—
when one day heaven was unmerciful,
and a chasm opened where she stood.
Like the jowls of a mighty white whale,
or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla,
it swallowed her whole.
She did not flinch nor writhe,
nor fret about the afterlife,
but stayed!  Solid as wood, happily
a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized
by all that was lavished upon her
and all that was taken away!

Can we find any meeting point between these two poems, “The Drowned Mariner” and “How I Got That Name?” One flies downward on the wings of a visionary dream, the other flies outward by way of reference, autobiography, and history. Both use real life (a horrific shipwreck tragedy impacted Oakes-Smith personally)—no one ever said Romanticism was not real; it just sounds to modern ears more removed from reality. Is this merely a matter of taste and fashion? This must be the common sense view—and since the Modern defines Romanticism as lacking common sense (how can we take the swooning music of Shelley seriously? etc) the Modern is forced to admit: yes, it is just a matter of taste and is trapped in the long arc with Romanticism forever.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF POETRY PULITZER PRIZES RANKED

Anne Sexton (Author of The Complete Poems)
Anne Sexton won in 1967 when she was 39.

To judge 100 years of prize-winning poetry is both a challenge and an illumination—the challenge is that in 100 years our idea of poetry has changed.

The landmark year of Modernism, 1922—when The Waste Land and Ulysses were published—saw the first official Pulitzer in Poetry awarded to the Collected Poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson, a retiring, self-published, versifier who got lucky when a friend showed his book to the president of the United States (Teddy Roosevelt)—Robinson the very opposite of Pound and his manifesto-band of revolutionary opportunists.

Pound and his clique were not just for the “new;” they resented Millay, Frost, Robinson, and poets who rhymed, sold lots of books, and won Pulitzers. Hugh Kenner, author of The Pound Era, had unkind things to say about Millay’s work. It was no secret that American poetry was split in two in the early part of the 20th century—and the two groups did not like each other. Robert Hillyer, a Harvard professor who won the Pulitzer in 1934 and 15 years later objected strenuously to Pound’s Bollingen Prize award, would leave the room if Pound or Eliot came up in conversation.

For years, the Pulitzer poetry award was administered by a committee of three. The chair for years was Wilbur Cross, a literary critic, Yale alum and Connecticut governor in the 1930s. Cross was on the jury until 1947, when Robert Lowell was awarded the prize by Cross, Henry S. Canby, and Louis Untermeyer. The next year Alfred Kreymborg joined the group, and he, Canby, and Untermeyer gave the Pulitzer to Auden.

The Dial magazine Prize (the revived journal lasted only for the decade of the 1920s) was, as any objective person should be able to ascertain, a circle-jerk of poet-comrades awarding each other prizes. Prize winners included Williams, Pound, Eliot, Cummings, and Marianne Moore—who replaced Scofield Thayer (a wealthy prep-school chum of Eliot’s) as Dial editor in 1926. Cummings eloped with Thayer’s wife at this time, with the latter’s approval, as the nephew of Casey At the Bat author, Ernest Thayer, was later hospitalized for mental instability.

No judging committee is going to be perfect, but the early years of the poetry Pulitzer judging seemed to get it right: don’t let poets award the prize; let a certain objective distance prevail—let judges be those who write opera librettos or teach philosophy, not poets seeking the prize itself. By the 1960s, poets (often winners of the prize) became judges. Poet-judging was already a thing in the 1930s, (there seemed to be a group centered around the long-defunct Saturday Review, a clique-ish center of gravity, if you will) but it was rare.

Po-biz has long since been taken over by the poets. Frost served on the jury once, in the 1930s. Leonard Bacon served on the jury for four years (’36—’39), and then won in 1941. Stephen Vincent Benet served on the jury briefly, and then won. If poets are good, one doesn’t resent this so much. No judging apparatus is air-tight. But it seems a no-brainer: let judges be credentialed in arts and letters, not to a circle of prize-desiring poets.

By the middle of the century, the gap between the two poetry camps (populist and modernist) had almost closed—the skirmish around Pound’s Bollingen Prize in 1949 was the last battle. It is difficult to describe the resulting one camp, except that it was vaguely anti-Romantic. I don’t believe it had anything to do with politics, since Pound was celebrated by Marxists; I think it was just a natural consolidation of friendly power. The cool kids (however that’s defined) prevailed—the outsiders were never quite sure what the favored and consolidating “cool” was, which is why they were outsiders, looking on with a mixture of indignation, admiration, jealousy, and puzzlement.

In the 21st century, the white avant-garde began to be replaced by identity politics, but Romanticism was still a thing of the past. A consolidation was happening within a consolidation. Expressive skill continued to take a back seat to the thing expressed.

The challenge of reconciliation still existed in the 1920s—Edwin Arlington Robinson or T.S. Eliot? Edna Millay or WC Williams? We feel a bit lost in the duality—which side do we like? It’s a challenge.

But as one reads the poets of the 1920s, aware of the split, and thinks about the Pulitzer’s 100 year history, there’s also illumination.

We tend to be binary—we cheer for one side over the other—and in our partisanship we exaggerate differences. As one reads E A Robinson, Edna Millay Robert Frost, and Amy Lowell, the Pulitzer winners of the 20s, poets eventually, and pretty much today, left behind during the Long March of Modernism’s revolution, one cannot help but notice in these populists an obsession with the past, with everything old—and this characterizes the Modernist revolutionaries, as well: for all their “modernism,” Pound and Eliot, too, wore hats and cloaks of the bygone.

As Randall Jarrell said: aren’t we all Romantics, really?

Both camps embraced the past seamlessly in their way: the Modernists attempted to write in a classic manner (stiff, humorless), while the early 20th Century school engaged the old in modes playful, fanciful, passionate—knowingly or unknowingly, it didn’t really matter; they did so energetically. The irony is that Modernist “revolutionaries” were rather staid, by comparison, bogged down by bullet-point, manifesto-ist, decrees.

Just to give a brief example—here’s a passage from Amy Lowell’s prize-winning book, What’s O’clock:

Hot with oranges and purples,
In a flowing robe of a marigold colour,
He sweeps over September spaces.
Scheherezade, do you hear him,
And the clang of his scimitar knocking on the gates?
The tawny glitter of his turban,
Is it not dazzling —
With the safron jewel set like a sun-flower in the midst?
The brown of his face!
Aye, the brown like the heart of a sun-flower.

Whatever can be said of this passage, it is colorful, it has swagger, even as we wonder, wouldn’t “flowing robe of marigold” be better than “flowing robe of a marigold color?”

Mundane things, like syntax and grammar, which the avant-garde dismisses as shallow, inhibiting, or old, will contribute to the quality of poetry forever—whether our meta-theoretical brains like it or not.

(T.S. Eliot, the best of the Modernists, plain knew how to write. He had Harvard. He had grammar—though you don’t necessarily need the Harvard for the grammar. Harvard, most importantly, quickly became the social meeting spot for the anti-Romantic “new,” whether you were Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings, or Wallace Stevens.)

Obviously, the following colorful poem is not better than Amy Lowell, but the tone is different—there is nothing “revolutionary” here; the fancy and the expansive have simply been set aside for a boiled-down, self-conscious, lecture:

“So much depends on the red wheel barrow…the white chickens…”

The Modernist poets wanted to ‘get things right’ in a narrower, more serious manner—and this is why they kept manifestos. The Populists (Millay sold 10,000 books for every one by Pound or Williams) were actually more experimental, more imaginative, and took more risks. Which means, yes, some of them did write poems which today make us wince. The Populists were more apt to be zany, to be ridiculous, to be odd, to take a subject and look at it in a bizarre way. They were out to please, without feeling they had to obey some revolutionary decree.

In one of Robert Frost’s four Pulitzer-winning volumes, there is a poem about a girl named “Maple”—those who went to school with the girl insisted it was “Mable.” No, Frost assures us, it was “Maple.” And Frost elaborates in one of his “story” poems.

Maple vs. Mable. This is unusual, bizarre, crazy—crazier than the Modernists, who actually took themselves far more seriously—and took fewer risks and in fact had less fun.

Poetry, the Modernists thought, needed to be serious and tweedy, not a fanciful romp—and this, as it turned out, in a crazy historical twist of fate, worked better in the university—and this is where the revolutionary Modernists finally won—in the ivory tower; they got into textbooks, initially published by the New Critics, anti-Romantics, who brilliantly played the game of Traditionalists who got themselves (the Modernists) in.

The Populists were more apt to write (why not?) like a 17th century bard and occasionally hit one out of the park (think of Millay’s “What Lips These Lips Have Kissed”). Robert Frost, Edna Millay, and Amy Lowell sometimes rhymed and sometimes did not (and come to think of it, T.S. Eliot, the best Modernist, did this as well). Edwin Arlington Robinson made a humorous retort when asked why he didn’t write free verse: “I’m bad enough as it is.” There is something rather puritan, it seems to me, about the narrow ones, frowning in the corner, who never rhyme. You can do all kinds of wonderful things in poetry—and rhyme, as well. But if, on principle, you don’t rhyme—is this really broadening, novel, imaginative, or revolutionary? And how did it become to be thought of as so?

The answer has already been alluded to—rhyme sold books, especially when a writer like Millay (who also had a sexy, rock-star persona) could rhyme almost as skillfully as Shakespeare—could, on occasion at least, pull it off. But the gold mine of getting onto a university syllabus required mining of a special sort:

First, we can’t keep just teaching Shakespeare (and writers like Millay writing sonnets like Shakespeare) forever, can we?

Second, since the establishment pushes for scholarly historical phases of art, it is only natural that we begin to teach those “of their time period,” i.e., the “Modernists.”

Third, is a sexy best-seller by the terribly loose Millay the best thing for serious study in the university? The Populists in the 20s featured lots of rhyming women. The prominent female in the Modernist club was the dour, buttoned-up, anti-Romantic, Miss Marianne Moore. Ironically, free verse was associated with free love. Neither side was necessarily staid. But the Modernists, led by the melancholy T.S. Eliot, seemed more fit for the university.

The generally neo-classical stiffness of the Moderns appealed to educators and deans, at last. The Populists sold books, but when did a “best-seller” ever appeal to a scholarly mind?

I’m going to assign four phases to the poetry Pulitzer history.

The first phase might be called the Wilbur Cross phase, when a Yale scholar and Democrat Governor of Connecticut who gave his name to the Wilbur Cross Parkway led the jury until 1946—when winners were poets like Edna Millay, Amy Lowell, Leonora Speyer (very good, utterly forgotten), George Dillon, Archibald MacLeish, and Audrey Wurdemann (another good poet and now ignored).

The second phase should be called the Alfred Kreymborg phase, a modernist-cooling-into conservatism judge who ruled the jury from 1947 (a young Robert Lowell won) to 1959—when Stanley Kunitz won.

Richard Wilbur (1957) and Kunitz comprised the two-man jury which chose Louis Simpson in 1963 and by now we are in the third phase, which could be called the Stanley Kunitz phase—prize-winning, establishment poets choosing prize-winning, establishment poets. As poetry sold less, it became necessary for poets to breathe “establishment” air. Kreymborg was on the jury one more time—in 1961, when he chose (along with Louis Untermeyer) the now forgotten Phyllis McGinley. The 1967 judges who picked Anne Sexton were Pulitzer prize poets, too: Richard Eberhart, Phyllis McGinley, and Louis Simpson.

The fourth phase begins with Vijay Seshadri winning in 2014—this might be called the Marilyn Chin phase (the latest Jury Chair).

The third phase is a long one, the consolidation of the Modernist hegemony, taking us through Ashbery winning in 1976, Charles Simic in 1990, C.K. Williams in 2000, to Sharon Olds’ win in 2013. We might also call the Kunitz phase the Wright phase: James Wright (1972), Charles Wright (1998), and Franz Wright (2004).

The fourth phase winners are: Seshadri, Greg Pardlo, Peter Balakian, Tyehimba Jess, Frank Bidart, Forrest Gander, Jericho Brown, and Natalie Diaz. Is the fourth phase really just an extension of the third phase? Perhaps.

Vijay Seshadri has a poem which ends with Al Green singing a Bee Gees song. If the music of the Bee Gees or Al Green appeal to you at all, you should find yourself pulled out of the poem (“Bright Copper Kettles”) because let’s face it, prose poets, who work in that familiar prose-poem-template-of-no-particular voice-or-personality—and are neither comics nor composers, and who are not Edna St. Vincent Millay—cannot possibly compete with popular culture (which is probably why, as modern poetry gradually turned into prose, which it mostly is now, poets felt the overwhelming need to professionally bond together in the MFA, award-giving hive, to protect each other from anything which might possibly resemble mass culture—ostentatious rhyme, ostentatious music, ostentatious comedy, sweeping themes, memorable speech.

The monotony of the prose-poem template is perhaps the longest cloud in the history of rapid-fire modernism, and lours over us—despite the wide and varied experience of the poet, or their advanced vocabulary—and it is the very fact of their immense experience and vocabulary which is partly to blame, since a host of sights and sounds observed with loving intelligence is a nullity—when it comes to poetry. The sights and sounds have to be the poem’s. There are limits to what words can describe. If the poet has twelve brothers, if the poet drinks in a bar, if the poet observes the wind’s behavior on a windy day, the translation of these events into words by an observant and intelligent person has absolutely nothing to do with poetry—if that person is not writing as a skilled writer of—poetry. He can reference all the pop songs and dances and memories of dad and world events he wants.

Enough editorializing on truism. The list, please.

(A note: Some won the award more than once, some won for a first book, some for a Collected—all are ranked as poets, but the work that actually won is taken into account, as well.)

The Pulitzer Prize Winning Poets, Ranked, From Best to Worst:

One Robert Hillyer 1934 He vigorously protested Pound’s post-treason Bollingen. Are you shocked he is number one? This owes mostly to the hearsay of poetic reputation. A Harvard prof who wrote like Shelley. Here’s 3 stanzas to give you an idea, from the poem, “Arabesque” published in Poetry magazine, August, 1924:

Rejected by a heliotrope,
The drunken butterfly has sworn
To hang himself with cobweb rope
From the black hawthorn.

The ocean floor is not more still—
That moonstone half suffused with green;
The sunlight pours forth from hill to hill,
Shadow between.

*

Death, not yet.
The fountain has not sung enough.
One other afternoon,
A few more hours.
Then, when the sun has set,
A few more hours of moon
In other gardens, other flowers.

Two Edna Millay 1923 She threw herself into song—and became a rock star. Her sonnets are some of the best of all time. She took song-risks. Failed a lot, but who cares? She doesn’t need to quote the Bee Gees in her poems. She is the Bee Gees.

Three Robert Frost 1924, 1931, 1937, 1943 He was a chatter-box. Sometimes didn’t know when to shut up. He actually did what Wordsworth recommended—blended poetry and speech. As if this means anything. Does it?

Four Edward Arlington Robinson 1922, 1925, 1928 Not since Poe and Longfellow dominated the 1840s were there two poets like Robinson and Millay who owned the 1920s. The public will be pleased by the effusions of whatever strikes its fancy without learned encouragement. The profound which manages to please the public is in danger of being underestimated. Robinson is the real deal. He avoids the fruitless amateur descriptions of trees and such—his poetry speaks.

Five James Tate 1992 Of all the free verse poets, who wrote poems in paragraphs, making no pretense to form whatsoever, he is the one who is probably the most amusing and thoughtful. His Selected Poems won.

Six Howard Nemerov 1978 The oil crisis, disco, the collapse of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. But here came Nemerov’s sane, polished, witty, Collected Poems to save us. Humorous/profound in a folksy manner such as we get from this WW II poet makes the rebellious/avant-garde uncomfortable. When you are funny, no one takes your cynicism seriously—and then no one takes you seriously at all. This is what happens to poets, like Nemerov, with range. He also had the audacity to have a good formalist ear. We prefer the tragic poets who have no range at all. In another hundred years, this choice will perhaps make more sense.

Seven Archibald MacLeish 1933, 1953 Won the Pulitzer the second time for his Collected. A poet’s poet. Not as funny as Nemerov—he took himself a bit too seriously, but he was of that time.

Eight Richard Wilbur 1957, 1989 This formalist dynamo did not always match his skills with great subjects—his most famous poem is about laundry (comparing it to angels) but he has a great poem about a fountain. One is always listening for a wrong step—so delicately precise he is—and so you hold your breath when you read him, making your way delicately through the formal delights.

Nine James Merrill 1977 The first part of his Ouija Board epic won the prize—how to tell the elegant Merrill from the scholarly Richard Howard? Merrill is a bit more metrically precise, a bit easier to read. Howard has more philosophical heft.

Ten Leonard Bacon 1941 Writes like Byron. His work is hard to find. Get it. It will be worth something one day.

Just to give you an idea, a few excerpts from his previous work (damn if I can find the book that won):

In short he was the very symbol of
The second nature of free verse—free love.

Still polyphonic prose is simply—prose.
Free verse is but the shadow of a song,
Though sham sham sham and pose repose on pose,
Though Greenwich Village pillage still in gutters,
Though Arensburg believe what Kreymborg utters.

She beat her bosom, which appeared to be
Flat as the level of democracy.

Eleven W.H. Auden 1948 Major formalist poet who was born in England. came to America in 1940 and won the U.S. award with an unrhymed tetrameter narrative poem about barflies in New York called The Age of Anxiety. Not his best but still Auden.

Twelve Donald Justice 1980 Observant, emotionally intelligent, knew how to write the lyric poem.

Thirteen Sylvia Plath 1982 Her life and work are so intertwined, one might say the critic has an impossible task. The New Critics would say, “delete the life!” But as we examine the flaky parts of the poem, all the competing ironies and resonances, we find “the life” in the poem, its energetic source; we cannot delete the poet’s life—its energies, its content, from the poem. Not the famed life, the life.

Fourteen Theodore Roethke 1954 He was very much like a mad, 19th century, English, poet. He ranks high because 19th century England wrote better poetry than 20th century America.

Fifteen Elizabeth Bishop 1956 Her reputation continued to grow as the century progressed and now I imagine it’s as high as it can go. If you got tired of Moore, you could read Bishop (Millay was not modern enough, Parker too dramatic, Teasdale too sad.) I imagine she took a secret delight in being able to write a better “Robert Lowell poem” than her friend Robert Lowell—a poem that was finally updated Wordsworth.

Sixteen John Berryman 1954 Won for Dream Songs—they were certainly uneven and well, crazy. I wonder if we’ll look back some day at 20th century American poetry and see its lunacy? Not as in: good art-crazy, but as in: “oh my God that was crazy.”

Seventeen Leonora Speyer 1927 We choose the best by one thing: their best poems, don’t we? And that makes nearly everyone who is not an epic poet famous (if they are lucky) for a handful of poems, sometimes one. Here’s one of hers I like—though I can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic—called “Ascent:”

Mountains take too much time.
Start at the top and climb.

Eighteen Stephen Dunn 2001 If you’re going to write free verse and you’re not an Imagist, it doesn’t hurt to be gossipy and poignant—a bartender Socrates.

Nineteen Mark Van Doren. 1940 He wrote lovely, slightly mystical lyrics. Also taught Allen Ginsberg at Columbia.

Twenty Richard Howard 1970 Very much a student of poetry—so absorbed in it, he wrote it almost as if it belonged to a different medium.

Twenty One Wallace Stevens 1955 Overrated, in my opinion. He seems quite consciously to be pulling our leg. I don’t care what Helen Vendler says. Does anyone else think of him as rather a joke? He did have range—though most of what he tried I didn’t like. But he’s still #21. He ought to be happy.

Twenty Two Amy Lowell 1926 Won an Imagist pissing contest with Pound—he was a mere scholar; she was a Sappho. See: “The Letter,” “Venus Transiens,” “The Garden by Moonlight,” “The Taxi,” and her famous “Patterns.” The pity is that she was the one who died early (1925)—rather than him.

Twenty Three William Rose Benet 1942 The Benets (the two brothers who won the prize—Stephen for a Civil War epic, William for an epic on his life of four marriages, including one with the Populist, Anne Sexton-lite poet, Eleanore Wylie). What do you say about the Benets? William’s verse had more energy.

Twenty Four Sharon Olds 2013 finally joined the Pulitzer club with her break-up book, Stag’s Leap—not at all her best work. She made a name for herself by being racy (though she was always more than that) and the Pulitzer for a very long time imagined itself to be rather classy: Robert Penn Warren, not Charles Bukowski. Stripped of her sex-partner, she gained a prize.

Twenty Five Galway Kinnnell 1983 He won for his Selected, before he wrote, “When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone.” More patience, Pulitzer, more patience.

Twenty Six Audrey Wurdermann 1935 Brief bios tell she was the great-great-grandaughter of Shelley. I would love to hear the story—none of Shelley’s known heirs grew to adulthood. She was only 24 when she won for her lyric songs. What do you think of this one:

Persephone


When she first came there, Pluto wept,
Streaking cinders down his face,
While she competently slept
In her alloted place.
She catalogued her little hells,
Cupboarded the fires,
And placed in tabulated wells
Old lost desires.
She made his Lordship stoop to gather
Ashes from the floor;
She regulated stormy weather,
And polished Hades’ door.
The Devil was unhappy in
Such cleanliness and space.
She said it was a mortal sin,
The way he’d kept the place!
Now, after several million years,
(For time can reconcile),
He tip-toes with quite human fears
About their domicile.

Twenty Seven Carl Dennis 2002 Nimble rhetorician. His work has a wondering-out loud, Billy Collins feel—but a little more respectable. Don’t know if that’s good or bad.

Twenty Eight Anne Sexton 1967 She won for Live or Die, poems from the early 60s, a housewife Robert Lowell—but with bursts of Dionsyian frenzy. She ought to be ranked higher, but the pain is too great. She out-Plaths Plath. Remember this from her?

from “Consorting With Angels”

I was tired of being a woman,
tired of the spoons and the pots
*

O daughters of Jerusalem,
the king has brought me into his chamber.
I am black and I am beautiful.
I’ve been opened and undressed.
I have no arms or legs.
I’m all one skin like a fish.
I’m no more a woman
than Christ was a man.

Twenty Nine Richard Eberhart 1966 The groundhog poem. He lived to be very, very, old.

Thirty Robert Penn Warren 1958, 1979 A prize machine, he belonged to the Fugitives, the Southern Agrarians, and co-wrote Understanding Poetry, the New Critics textbook, a tome of many editions mid-century which made it official: WC Williams yea, Poe nay.

Thirty One John Ashbery 1976 Anyone can rhyme, and now, thanks to Ashbery, anyone can write poetry.

Thirty Two Anthony Hecht 1968 “The Dover Bitch” wins the Pulitzer Prize!

Thirty Three Stanley Kunitz 1959 His poems stake out a sentimental pitch and then retreat, ashamed for doing so. I love him and can’t stand him.

Thirty Four Robert Lowell 1947, 1974 There’s something show-offy about him. Always seemed too prog-rock, not rock enough for my taste. I’ll admit I thought the Lowell name opened doors, and found it strange that he left Harvard for New Critic-dom in Tennessee. A Fugitive poet was the family psychiatrist. The first Big Star Writing Program prof (Iowa, Boston U.), his early promise, the idea of his greatness, didn’t come to fruition.

Thirty Five W.S. Merwin 1971, 2009 Has that lack of punctuation poignancy which floats off to somewhere else, allowing nothing very important to be finally said, and if this is what poetry finally is, damn he’s good.

Thirty Six Robert Hass 2008 He perfected that middle period free verse ability to ironically lecture while invoking the sensual.

Thirty Seven Natasha Tretheway 2007 Her poetry snaps and zings as good poetry should. She’s underrated. Her lyricism has force.

Thirty Eight Louis Simpson 1964 O the contemplative wisdom in the darkness! His work seems a little plainer and duller now than I remembered it. Some poetry has a way of impressing us more in our youth when professors-as-human hold more sway.

Thirty Nine Louise Gluck 1993 I must admit she completely bored me at first. She seemed emotionally distant in her poems and I read her that way, and so I fell asleep to what she was doing.

Forty Gwendolyn Brooks 1950 “We die soon.”

Forty One Carl Sandburg 1951 He really did write a lot of bad poems. Maybe folk-singers do that.

Forty Two George Dillon 1932 One of Millay’s boyfriends. Poetry magazine editor—while serving in WW II. Here’s his “Beauty Intolerable:”

Finding her body woven
As if of flame and snow,
I thought: however often
My pulses cease to go,
Whipped by whatever pain
Age or disease appoint,
I shall not be again
So jarred in every joint,
So mute, amazed and taut,
And winded of my breath,

Beauty being at my throat
More savagely than death.

Forty Three Stephen Vincent Benet 1929, 1944 The Civil War epic! He received his second award posthumously. He was also a well-known fiction writer.

Forty Four Phyllis McGinley 1961 A formalist housewife poet. Made the cover of Time in 1965.

Forty Five Natalie Diaz 2021 The latest winner. She played professional basketball before earning her MFA. “It Was the Animals” is a brilliant poem.

Forty Six Peter Viereck 1949 He dared to invoke old, swooning themes in rhyme. My God, it was 1949! I guess the free verse revolution hadn’t happened yet. His poem, “Again, Again!” sounds like a pop song. Here’s how it begins and ends:

Who here’s afraid to gawk at lilacs?
Who won’t stand up and praise the moon?
Who doubts that skies still ache for skylarks
And waves are lace upon the dune?

*

I’ll see. I’ll say. I’ll find the word.
All earth must lilt, then, willy-nilly
And vibrate one rich triple-chord
Of August, wine, and waterlily.

Billy Collins sounds bad ass compared to this. I still like it, though. I’m not afraid to praise the moon. It’s difficult to understand that when poetry rejects—in principle—whatever Viereck is doing here: 1649, 1949, 2021, it doesn’t matter, options don’t increase; they diminish.

Forty Seven Alan Dugan 1962 Who are these poets who feel so damn sorry for themselves, writing spare little poems in diners and used clothing shops? Hey don’t knock it. Sylvia Plath was dying and he was winning a Pulitzer prize.

Forty Eight Charles Wright 1998 Almost won in 1982 but was beaten by Plath’s posthumous Collected. His winning volume has that resigned, bird-watching, lawn-sprinkler, reality which is perfectly good even as it bores us to tears. “If there’s nothing going on,/there’s no reason to make it up.” Yeah, I guess.

Forty Nine Kay Ryan 2011 Brevity is the soul of wit, not poetry. She has an Emily Dickinson quality, but much drier. The idea of her greatness, but in fact, not. Occasionally good.

Fifty Paul Muldoon 2003 Seamus Heaney-lite, or maybe closer to Ted Hughes-lite. Whimsical, with an edge.

Fifty One Tyehimba Jess 2017 Born in Detroit, a Slam poet who received his MFA at NYU. “a woman birthed him/back whole again.” He knows how to end poems. Many good poets don’t know how to do that.

Fifty Two W.D. Snodgrass 1960 Confessional Poetry. What was “confessional,” anyway? What did it confess? Snodgrass went through a divorce as he earned his MFA at Iowa.

Fifty Three Yusef Komunyakaa 1994 One of America’s great tragic poets.

Fifty Four Rita Dove 1987 Her winning book is about her maternal grandparents. She responded with great dignity when her anthology of 20th century poetry was attacked from respectable academic and avant-garde quarters for filling it with certain types of poets. Her poetry celebrates affection.

Fifty Five Marianne Moore 1952 She was not only didactic at times, but she explicitly warned us away from beauty in the old high sense. Sorry, no.

Fifty Six James Schuyler 1981 You cannot totally hate poetry when at least a friendly, observant, personality shows through.

Fifty Seven Gregory Pardlo 2015 You can say a lot of things in prose poetry. I love this: “She makes a jewelry of herself and garlands/the ground with shadows.”

Fifty Eight Philip Levine 1995 Won for his book The Simple Truth. Run-on prose lines; breathless sameness to his poetry. A Hemingway plain-speaking tone imprisoned in pseudo-lyric form.

Fifty Nine Jericho Brown 2020 Influenced by Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes.. He’s director of the Creative Writing program at Emory.

Sixty Philip Schultz 2008 Shared his win with Hass. Confessional—the Stanley Kunitz school.

Sixty One Jorie Graham 1996 She won for later work that was pedantic—poison to her mystical flair. Early Graham was better.

Sixty Two Marya Zaturenska 1938 Her verses are below the quality of what I expect to see from that time; somewhat heavy-handed, but they certainly have their moments.

Sixty Three Mary Oliver. 1984 The first member of the ‘Feel-Good School.’ It certainly has worth (and may even win the day for some) even if hers is the shadow of poetry, the shadow of what might be called nature poetry (which is impossible anyway—“I think I will never see…”).

Sixty Four Robert Coffin 1936 Has some OK ballads. He was the poetry editor of Yankee magazine.

Sixty Five Conrad Aiken 1930 A friend of Eliot’s, he and John Gould Fletcher (in 1939) were the first of the “hostile camp” Modernists to slip in and win a Pulitzer—Aiken’s lyrics were not terribly good but had an Eastern feel. Everyone in America—Populist or Modernist—loved Eastern art and poetry: from the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War to Pearl Harbor.

Sixty Six Vijay Seshadri 2014 And why not put Al Green singing a Bee Gees song in your poem?

Sixty Seven Peter Balakian 2016 I don’t know. His poetry has that scholarly, thoughtful sheen.

Sixty Eight George Oppen 1969 Fashionably minimalist.

Sixty Nine Tracy K. Smith. 2012 She was young when she won the award. I saw her read around that time, and she seemed apologetic around her fellow readers. She’s a much better poet now.

Seventy Mona Van Duyn 1991 Witty, formalist, didactic. A pleasant poet from Iowa who could rise to a mighty rhetoric from which one felt she pretty quickly needed to get down.

Seventy One Charles Simic 1990 Like so many free verse poets, whatever at-the-time-magic hovered around their utterances previously, is now fled. I found The World Doesn’t End haunting when it came out. It didn’t bother to do anything except describe (briefly and plainly) what was odd and the reader would fill in the rest. Was it this novelty itself which charmed? It haunts no more.

Seventy Two William Carlos Williams 1963 He won at the end of his life for a book of poems on Bruegel. I guess if you want you can try to use words to compete with…Bruegel. Well, advertisers can make us taste beer, can’t they?

Seventy Three Rae Armantrout 2010 By the time she won, Ron Silliman’s avant-garde was getting desperate. It would try anything. Do you want to hear a few jokes?

Seventy Four Ted Kooser 2004 He nearly destroyed the Poetry Pulitzer’s reputation by winning. It was between the old avant-garde running out of steam and the complete triumph of Identity Politics. Remember that window? Kooser slipped in.

Seventy Five William Meredith 1988 Nice. And the dull, which tends to rust the nice, has done so.

Seventy Six Frank Bidart 2019 Highly interesting, but I had to rank him here because he borrows explicitly to such an extent. “Ellen West” enthralls me.

Seventy Seven James Wright. 1972 Just awfully sentimental. He was writing during a time when the sentimental had almost been demolished by High Modernism’s brutalist take-over—and I suppose there was a backlash.

Seventy Eight Caroline Kizer 1985 She has a Marianne Moore vibe.

Seventy Nine C.K Williams 2000 Long lines of exuberant tastelessness.

Eighty Gary Snyder 1975 In his poems we glimpse the real good life.

Eighty One Forrest Gander 2018 A highly self-conscious effort at stylishness is what jumps out at me from this winning book. Self-conscious stylishness (or at least what feels self-conscious) is what bothers me about Robert Lowell (he won during a hybrid era when warring Imagism and Romanticism had died in the 1920s, socialist ballads had died after the Hitler/Stalin pact, and post-WW II, ‘good and the stylish, vaguely blending old and new’ was what everyone was expecting) but Robert Lowell could at least versify somewhat.

Eighty Two Franz Wright 2004 An honest and tempestuous man, his poetic legacy now seems largely one of self-pity—with the occasional lyric of shining light.

Eighty Three Claudia Emerson 2006 Prosaic—as if the poem doesn’t know what she’s talking about—though we do.

Eighty Four Lisel Mueller 1997 Free verse without personality is like reading a dictionary or an encyclopedia. Some nice thoughts, but presented in such a way that the air doesn’t move. The sailboat doesn’t go.

Eighty Five Maxine Kumin 1973 She operates poetry’s ranger station.

Eighty Six Karl Shapiro 1945 Childish, description, poetry. Poetry which feels like an exercise. “The Fly,” for instance, is pure horror, and I don’t mean in a good way.

Eighty Seven Henry S. Taylor 1986 Perfected the Modernist, Iowa Workshop, mundane life-plain voice template.

Eighty Eight John Gould Fletcher 1939 He was the one, more than anyone else, who belonged, hesitantly, not intentionally, armed with money, to all the groupings of High Modernism—Amy Lowell’s, Pound’s, the Fugitives, disappointing them all, apparently, by not being loyal enough, or by not spending his money enough. He reminds me of that hapless friend of Iago’s who was advised, “sell all your lands!” He wrote perhaps the worst poem of all time in which he grieves for a “black rock,” sticking out of the ocean, over and over again, in the same way, over multiple stanzas.

Eighty Nine Mark Strand 1998 He represents the nadir of establishment 20th century American free verse. Once a highly acclaimed poet of zen-like poems of profound emptiness which now seem merely empty—the title poem of his winning book, “Blizzard of One,” is really about a single snow flake that floats into a man’s home and sits on his chair and “That’s all/There was to it.”

Here’s an earlier poem by Mark Strand from the late 70s. This was once considered good. I think I probably liked it at one time. Now it just seems embarrassing.

Eating Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

So there we have it—the best and the worst of the first hundred years of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Through WW II, nearly half the prizes (10) were given to Frost, EA Robinson, and the Benet brothers.

There has been only one repeat winner since 1989 (W.S. Merwin in 2009).

Depending on your taste, you may want to flip this ranking on its head.

But I’m sticking to this order.

For now.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF U.S. POETRY

Phillis Wheatley, Poems on various subjects, religious and moral - Age of  Revolution

1650 Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America: By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts published in London.

1773 Phillis Wheatley, a slave, publishes Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. During the American Revolution she wrote to George Washington, who thanked her, praised her poetry, and invited her to his headquarters.

1791 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is published in Paris, in French.  Ben Franklin’s Autobiography appears in London, for the first time in English, two years later.   Had it been published in America, the Europeans would have laughed.  The American experiment isn’t going to last, anyway.

Franklin, the practical man, the scientist, and America’s true founding father, weighs in on poetry: it’s frivolous.

1794  Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey make plans to go to Pennsylvania in a communal living experiment, but their personalities clash and the plan is aborted.  Southey becomes British Poet Laureate twenty years later.

1803  William Blake, author of “America: A Prophecy” is accused of crying out “Damn the King!” in Sussex, England, narrowly escaping imprisonment for treason.

1815  George Ticknor, before becoming literature Chair at Harvard, travels to Europe for 4 years, spending 17 months in Germany.

1817  “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant appears in the North American Review.

1824  Byron, who wanted to travel to America (he met George Ticknor in Europe), dies in Greece.

1824  Lafayette, during tour of U.S, calls on Edgar Poe’s grandmother, revolutionary war veteran widow.

1832  Washington Irving edits London edition of William Cullen Bryant’s Poems to avoid politically offending British readers.

1835 Massachusetts senator and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier mobbed and stoned in Concord, New Hampshire.

1835  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow appointed Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard.

1836  Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes 500 copies of Divinity School Address anonymously.  He will not publish another book for 6 years.

1838  Poe’s translated work begins appearing in Russia. Dostoevsky, influenced by Poe, publishes him.

1843  Transcendentalist, Unitarian minister, Harvard Divinity School student Christopher Pearse Cranch marries the sister of T.S. Eliot’s Unitarian grandfather; dedicates Poems to Emerson, published in The Dial, a magazine edited by Margaret Fuller and Emerson; frequent visitor to Brook Farm.  Cranch is more musical and sensuous than Emerson; even Poe can tolerate him; Cranch’s poem “Enosis” pre-figures Baudelaire’s “Correspondences.”

T.S. Eliot’s family is deeply rooted in New England Unitarianism and Transcendentalism through Cranch and Emerson’s connection to his grandfather, Harvard Divinity graduate, William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington U., St. Louis.

1845  Elizabeth Barrett writes Poe with news of “The Raven’s” popularity in England.  The poem appeared in a daily American newspaper and produced instant fame, though Poe’s reputation as a critic and leader of the Magazine Era was well-established.  During this period Poe coins “Heresy of the Didactic” and “A Long Poem Does Not Exist.”  In a review of Barrett’s 1840 volume of poems which led to Barrett’s fame before she met Robert Browning, Poe introduced his piece by saying he would not, as was typically done, review her work superficially because she was a woman. Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to Elizabeth Barrett. Then Robert Browning entered the picture.

1845 Poe accuses Longfellow of plagiarism.

1847  Ralph Waldo Emerson is in England, earning his living as an orator.

1848  Charles Baudelaire’s first translations of Poe appear in France.

1848  James Russell Lowell publishes “A Fable For Critics” anonymously.

1848 Female Poets of America, an anthology of poems by American women, is published by the powerful and influential anthologist, Rufus Griswold—who believes women naturally write a different kind of poetry.  Griswold’s earlier success, The Poets and Poetry of America (1842) contains 3 poems by Poe and 45 by Griswold’s friend, Charles Fenno Hoffman. In a review, Poe remarks that readers of anthologies buy them to see if they are in them.

1848  Poe publishes Eureka and the Rationale of Verse, exceptional works on the universe—and verse.

1849 Edgar Poe is apparently murdered in Baltimore; leading periodicals ignore strange circumstances of Poe’s death and one, Horace Greeley’s Tribune, hires Griswold (who signs his piece ‘Ludwig’) to take the occasion to attack the character of the poet. There is no press notice of Poe’s unusual passing. Baltimore Sun writer, Joseph Snodgrass, who happens to live close to where Poe is found in distress, and Poe’s hated cousin Neilson Poe (who happens to appear) are prime suspects according to Scarriet. The Baltimore Sun, like the New York Tribune, covers up any hint of foul play with bland and brief coverage.

1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes The Scarlett Letter. There is recent speculation the work is loosely based on Edgar Poe, Fanny Osgood, and Rufus Griswold.

1855 Griswold reviews Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and calls it a “mass of stupid filth.”  Griswold, whose second wife was apparently a man (their divorce is very complicated, involving Griswold lending out his daughter) fills his review with words such as “vileness,” “rotting,” and “shame.”  Whitman later includes the Griswold review in one of his editions of Leaves.

1856  English Traits, extolls the English race, claiming it was the English “character” that vanquished India, is published in the U.S. and England, by poet and new age priest Ralph Waldo Emerson, as England waits for the inevitable Civil War to tear her rival, America, apart.

1859.  In a conversation with William Dean Howells, Emerson calls Hawthorne’s latest book “mush” and furiously calls Poe “the jingle man.”

1860  William Cullen Bryant introduces Abraham Lincoln at Cooper Union; the poet advises the new president on his cabinet selection.

1867  First collection of African American “Slave Songs” published.

1883  “The New Colossus” is composed by Emma Lazarus; engraved on the Statue of Liberty, 1903

1883  Poems of Passion by Ella Wheeler Wilcox rejected by publisher on grounds of immorality.

1888 “Casey at the Bat” published anonymously. The author, Ernest Thayer, does not become known as the author of the poem until 1909—he is the uncle of Scofield Thayer, who will publish “The Waste Land” in the revived Dial.

1890  Emily Dickinson’s posthumous book published by Mabel Todd and Thomas Higginson.  William Dean Howells gives it a good review, and it sells well.

1893  William James, the “nitrous oxide philosopher,” Emerson’s godson, becomes Gertrude Stein’s influential professor at Harvard.

1896 Paul Laurence Dunbar publishes Lyrics of Lowly Life.

1897  Wallace Stevens enters Harvard, falling under the spell of William James, as well as George Santayana.

1904  Yone Noguchi publishes “Proposal to American Poets” as the Haiku rage begins in the United States and Britain, mostly due to Japan’s surprising victory in the Russo-Japanese War. Imagism, eventually celebrated as “new,” is merely a copy of haiku, and belongs to the same trend.

1910  John Crowe Ransom, Fugitive, Southern Agrarian, New Critic, takes a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University.

1910  John Lomax publishes “Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads.”

1912  Harriet Monroe founds Poetry magazine; in 1880s attended literary gatherings in New York with William Dean Howells and Richard Henry Stoddard (Poe biographer) and in 1890s met Whistler, Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Aubrey BeardsleyEzra Pound is Poetry’s London editor.

1913  American Imagist poet H.D. marries British Imagist poet Richard Aldington.

1913 The Armory Show in New York, which brings modern art to America, occurs under the guidance of Pound and T.S. Eliot’s attorney and modern art collector, John Quinn.

1914 Robert Frost meets Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell in London.

1914  Ezra Pound works as Yeats‘ secretary in Sussex, England.

1915  Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology published.  Masters was law partner of Clarence Darrow.

1916 Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke publish Spectra, a poetry hoax spoofing Imagism and everyone is fooled.

1917  Robert Frost begins teaching at Amherst College.

1920  “The Sacred Wood” by T.S. Eliot, banker, London. Decries “Hamlet.” Writes, “immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.”

1921  Margaret Anderson’s Little Review loses court case and is declared obscene for publishing a portion of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is banned in the United States.  Random House immediately tries to get the ban lifted in order to publish the work.

1922  T.S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” awarded The Dial Prize before Ezra Pound has finished editing it.

1922  D.H Lawrence and Frieda stay with Mabel Dodge in Taos, New Mexico.

1923  Edna St. Vincent Millay wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1923  William Butler Yeats wins Nobel Prize for Literature

1924  Robert Frost wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1924  Ford Maddox Ford founds the Transatlantic Review.   Stays with Allen Tate and Robert Lowell in his lengthy sojourn to America, and helps to found the American Writing Program Era.

1924  Marianne Moore wins The Dial Prize; becomes editor of The Dial the next year, as E.E. Cummings elopes with the retiring editor Scofield Thayer’s wife.

1924  James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children opens.

1925  E.E. Cummings wins The Dial Prize.

1926  Yaddo Artist Colony opens

1926 Dorothy Parker publishes her first book of poems, With Enough Rope.

1927  Walt Whitman biography wins Pulitzer Prize

1927 Laura Riding, who published poems in The Fugitive, together with Robert Graves, influence William Empson and the New Criticism with their Survey of Modernist Poetry. She’s almost killed jumping out a 4th story window 2 years later.

1929 Harry Crosby, Black Sun Press editor, free verse poet, nephew of JP Morgan, dies at 31 in suicide pact with his lover.

1930  “I’ll Take My Stand” published by Fugitive/Southern Agrarians and future New Critics, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, Allen Tate defend ways of the Old South.

1932  Paul Engle wins Yale Younger Poet Prize, judged by member of John Crowe Ransom’s Fugitive circle.  Engle, a prolific fundraiser, builds the Iowa Workshop into a Program Writing Empire.

1933  T.S. Eliot delivers his speech on “free-thinking jews” at the University of Virginia.

1934  “Is Verse A Dying Technique?” published by Edmund Wilson.

1936  New Directions founded by Harvard sophomore James Laughlin.

1937  Robert Lowell camps out in Allen Tate’s yard.  Lowell has left Harvard to study with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College. The trip by Lowell was recommended by the Lowell family psychiatrist, the Fugitive poet, Merrill Moore.

1938  First Edition of textbook Understanding Poetry by New Critics Brooks and Warren, helps to canonize unread poets Williams and Pound, while attacking Poe.

1938  Aldous Huxley moves to Hollywood.

1938 Delmore Schwartz publishes In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, at 25, a smash-hit volume of short stories and poetry.

1939  Allen Tate starts Writing Program at Princeton.

1939  W.H. Auden moves to the United States and earns living as college professor.

1940  Mark Van Doren is awarded Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1941 F.O. Matthiessen publishes American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman.

1943  Ezra Pound indicted for treason by the United States government.

1946  Wallace Stegner founds Stanford Writing Program.  Yvor Winters will teach Pinsky, Haas, Hall and Gunn.

1948  Pete Seeger, nephew of WW I poet Alan Seeger (“I Have A Rendezvous With Death”) forms The Weavers, the first singer-songwriter ‘band’ in the rock era.

1948  T.S. Eliot wins Nobel Prize

1949  T.S. Eliot viciously attacks Poe in From Poe To Valery

1949  Ezra Pound is awarded the Bollingen Prize.  The poet Robert Hillyer protests and Congress resolves its Library will no longer fund the award.  Hillyer accuses Paul Melon, T.S. Eliot and New Critics of a fascist conspiracy.

1949 Elizabeth Bishop appointed U.S. Poet Laureate.

1950  William Carlos Williams wins first National Book Award for Poetry

1950  Gwendolyn Brooks wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1950 W.S Merwin tutors Robert Graves‘ son in Majorca.

1951  John Crowe Ransom, the Modernist T.S. Eliot of the American South, is awarded the Bollingen Prize.

1953  Dylan Thomas dies in New York City.

1954  Theodore Roethke wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1955 John Ashbery wins Yale Younger Prize for Some Trees. Judge W.H. Auden requested the manuscript.

1957  Allen Tate is awarded the Bollingen.

1957  “Howl” by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg triumphs in obscenity trial as the judge finds book “socially redeeming;” wins publicity in Time & Life.

1957  New Poets of England and America, Donald Hall, Robert Pack, Louis Simspon, eds.

1959  Carl Sandburg wins Grammy for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

1959  M.L Rosenthal coins the term “Confessional Poetry” in The Nation as he pays homage to Robert Lowell.

1959 Donald Justice wins the Lamont Poetry Prize for Summer Anniversaries.

1960  New American Poetry 1945-1960, Donald Allen, editor.

1961  Yvor Winters is awarded the Bollingen.

1961  Denise Levertov becomes poetry editor of The Nation.

1961  Louis Untermeyer appointed Poet Laureate Consultant In Poetry To the Library of Congress (1961-63)

1961 Robert Graves appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford—holds the post until 1966.

1962  Sylvia Plath takes her own life in London.

1964  John Crowe Ransom wins The National Book Award for Selected Poems. His Kenyon Review is where Plath and other poets were most eager to publish.

1964  Keats biography by W.Jackson Bate wins Pulitzer. The Burden of the Past and the English Poet by the same author predates, and is a more readable version of, Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence.

1965  Horace Gregory is awarded the Bollingen.  Gregory had attacked the poetic reputation of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

1967  Anne Sexton wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1968  Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, directed by Zeffirelli, nominated for Best Picture by Hollywood.

1971  The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner published.  Kenner, a friend of William F. Buckley, Jr., saved Pound’s reputation with this work; Kenner also savaged the reputation of Millay.

1971  W.S Merwin wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1972  John Berryman jumps to his death off bridge near University of Minnesota.

Berryman’s classes in the 50’s were filled with future prize-winners, not necessarily because he and his students were great, but because his students were on the ground-floor of the Writing Program era.

1972  Frank O’Hara wins National Book Award for Collected Poems

1974 Anne Sexton commits suicide.

1975  Gary Snyder wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1976  Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow’s novel on Delmore Schwartz, wins Pulitzer.

1976 John Ashbery wins Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award for Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror

1977 Gerald Stern wins the Lamont Poetry Prize, Judges Alan Dugan, Philip Levine, and Charles Wright.

1978  Language magazine, Bernstein & Andrews, begins 4 year run.  Charles Bernstein studied J.L Austin’s brand of ‘ordinary language philosophy’ at Harvard.

1980  Helen Vendler wins National Book Critics Circle Award

1981 Seamus Heaney becomes Harvard visiting professor.

1981 Carolyn Forche wins the Lamont Poetry Prize for The Country Between Us.

1981  Derek Walcott founds Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University.

1981  Oscar Wilde biography by Richard Ellman wins Pulitzer.

1982  Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems wins Pulitzer.

1984  Harold Bloom savagely attacks Poe in review of Poe’s Library of America works (2 vol) in New York Review of Books, repeating similar attacks by Yvor Winters, Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot.

1984 Charles Bernstein at a poetry conference in Alabama mentions the “policemen of official verse culture.” Gerald Stern presses Bernstein to name names. He does not—except to mention T.S. Eliot as being disliked by WC Williams.

1984  Marc Smith founds Slam Poetry in Chicago.

1984  Mary Oliver is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1985 Gwendolyn Brooks appointed U.S. Poet Laureate for 1985-6.

1986  Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, a novel in verse, is published.

1987  The movie “Barfly” depicts life of Charles Bukowski.

1988  David Lehman’s Best American Poetry Series debuts with John Ashbery as first guest editor.  The first words of the first poem (by A.R. Ammons) in the Series are: William James.

1990 Robert Bly publishes Iron John.

1991  “Can Poetry Matter?” by Dana Gioia is published in The Atlantic. According to the author, poetry has become an incestuous viper’s pit of academic hucksters.

1996  Jorie Graham wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1997 Kent Johnson and Tosa Motokiyu are suspected authors of Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, one of the richest and greatest controversies in world letters.

1999  Peter Sacks wins Georgia Prize, Jorie Graham, judge.

1999  Billy Collins signs 3-book, 6-figure deal with Random House.

2002  Ron Silliman’s Blog founded. Silliman will attack “quietism” while defending the poetry avant-garde.

2002  Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club wins Pulitzer Prize.

2002  Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems published.

2004  Foetry.com founded by Alan Cordle. The site looks at Poetry Prizes, judges, and poets, in a controversial manner. Shortly before his death, Robert Creeley defends his poetry colleagues on Foetry.com.

2004  Franz Wright wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005 Ted Kooser wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005 The LA Times call Alan Cordle “the most despised…most feared man” in American poetry.”

2005  William Logan wins National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

2006  Fulcrum No. 5, editors Philip Nikolayev, Katia Kapovich, appears, featuring works of Landis Everson and his editor, Ben Mazer, also Eliot Weinberger, Glyn Maxwell, Joe Green, and Marjorie Perloff.

2007 Joan Houlihan dismisses Foetry.com as “losers” in a Poets & Writers letter. Defends the integrity of Georgia and Tupelo press.

2007  Paul Muldoon succeeds Alice Quinn as poetry editor of The New Yorker.

2007 Frank Bidart wins the Bollingen Prize.

2009 Fanny Howe is awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

2009  The Program Era by Mark McGurl, published by Harvard University Press, an historic look at college creative writing.

2009  Following the mass banning of Alan Cordle, Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman from The Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet (which soon bans all public comments), they decide to create Blog Scarriet (September 1 2009 to present)

2010 Sir Christopher Ricks publishes True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell Under the Sign of Eliot and Pound.

2011 Rita Dove publishes her Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff object to her choices. Scarriet defends Dove.

2012 Natasha Trethewey is appointed U.S. Poet Laureate

2013 Mark Edmundson, U VA professor, attacks the quality of contemporary poetry in Harper’s magazine.

2013 Sharon Olds wins the Pulitzer for Stag’s Leap.

2013 Don Share becomes editor of Poetry.

2013 Patricia Lockwood’s poem “Rape Joke” goes viral on social media.

2013 Paul Lewis, professor, brings Poe statue to Boston—the Jingle Man returneth.

2014 Billy Collins interviews Paul McCartney.

2014 Maya Angelou dies.

2014 Peter Gizzi publishes Selected Poems.

2015 Derek Michael Hudson is controversially published as Yi-Fen Chou in David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series, Sherman Alexie, guest editor.

2015 Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric wins multiple poetry and criticism awards, and is on New York Times bestseller list in nonfiction.

2016 Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize in Literature.

2016 Ron Padgett writes 3 poems for the film Paterson.

2016 Helen Vendler reviews Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom, editor, Ben Mazer, in NYR

2017 John Ashbery dies.

2017 William Logan, poet, and the best-know poetry reviewer in America, accuses Norton editor Jill Bialosky of plagiarism. Her book is called Poetry Will Save Your Life.

2017 Garrison Keillor, who broadcasts contemporary poems in his Writer’s Almanac, accused of sexual harassment.

2017 Jorie Graham wins the Wallace Stevens Award with a stipend of $100,000.

2017 Kevin Young becomes poetry editor of The New Yorker.

2017 Kenneth Goldsmith lives and dies by “found poem.” Autopsy of Michael Brown causes outrage.

2018 Anders Carlson-Wee apologizes for his poem in the Nation.

2019 Marilyn Chin is awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

2020 Ben Mazer resurrects the poems of Harry Crosby.

2020 Louise Gluck wins Nobel Prize for Literature.

2020 Don Share resigns as editor of Poetry for publishing poem by Michael Dickman.

2021 Amanda Gorman reads at Joe Biden’s inauguration.

2021 Thomas Graves, a Scarriet editor, publishes Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism.

IT’S A RACE! SPIELBERG MAKES CHANGES, GAINS ON ROCKEFELLER’S BUYERS

Transformers 3D ride opens at Universal Studios with pyrotechnics ...

Spielberg shakes things up in the Modern Division

the Modern Division

Rockefeller’s New York Buyers 37 27
Spielberg’s Phoenix Universe 33 31 (4)
Warhol’s Manhattan Printers 32 32 (5)
Harriman’s Arden Dreamers 30 34 (7)
Barnes’ Philadelphia Crash 25 39 (12)

A week ago, The Buyers, the Madison Avenue club, had the best record in the entire league.

That’s no longer true.  The Secrets, who lead the Society Division, and the Cobras, first in the Peoples Division, now have more wins than Rockefeller’s team. Like the Ceilings in the Emperor Division, the Buyers are stalling in the summer heat.

Now we have Rockefeller, owner of the Buyers, oil millionaire—stingy, stubborn, domineering, conservative, unchanging—against a cheerful director/producer, who is emptying his purse and trying everything.

The Buyers were doing so well, there was no reason to change.  It will be interesting to see what happens now. Time to panic?  Rockefeller’s team has a 4 game lead, and more than half of the season left.

The Buyers’ Elizabeth Bishop still leads the league with 22 homers, but she’s only hit 2 in her last 19 games. Robert Lowell, who has 10, hasn’t hit a home run in 17 games. So what’s happening with this pair of sluggers?  This has to be a concern for manager Charles Darwin. The Buyers have been outscored 61 to 45 in their last 16 games.  True, this included a 12 game road trip, but a drought is a drought.

Then there’s the Buyers’ starting pitching.

Rockefeller paid a lot for Walt Whitman, their ace. Before their current slide, Whitman was 4-2, with a few well-pitched no-decisions.  He’s 1-3 in his last 4 starts.

Paul Engle. Is the poet and creative writing entrepreneur really that good? The Buyers pitcher got to 9 wins almost faster than anyone—but he’s lost his last 3 starts.

The lefty starter for the Buyers, Mark Twain, like Engle, couldn’t lose in the months of May and June, but lately he’s 1-3, and got rocked 21-10 in his last start.

Sigmund Freud, another big bucks purchase for Rockefeller, quickly won 5 games, then slumped. Now he’s turned it around somewhat.

Rockefeller has gone with a modest bullpen, and so far he’s done alright with it—Helen Vendler, W.K. Wimsatt, Monroe Beardsley, and Judith Butler.  Eight wins out of the pen. Which is fine.

Does Swami Vivekananda, Rockefeller’s advisor and pitching coach see any pitching moves coming from his boss?  “No.”

Does Darwin plan on shuffling the lineup at all?  Charles, the manager, says, “No.” (Louis Simpson is playing okay right now for the Buyer’s injured center fielder, Robert Penn Warren.)

But some Buyer fans don’t like their team’s conservative attitude, especially when they see what Steven Spielberg is doing with his Universe—11-5 in their last 16 games—outscoring opponents 85 to 62. Paul Celan now has 10 homers, tied for second on the team with Bob Dylan; Juvenal has 14 homers to lead the club, and Delmore Schwartz is red-hot has 7 homers to go with a .381 batting average.

Universe manager Billy Beane and pitching coach Tom Hanks have made big changes to the Universe’s starting pitching. (The Universe have not signed Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera; some snags still have to be worked out—these two may go to Harriman’s Dreamers.) Harriet Beecher Stowe is still the Universe’s ace, and she picked up her 4th and 5th win of the season, recently. Beecher Stowe has not pitched like an ace, yet, but Spielberg has faith.  Milosz, Trilling, Said, and Foucault are still in the bullpen.

But the following changes have been made.  Spielberg has sent Harold Bloom (4-5) to the bullpen (“He’ll do better there:” Hanks) and replaced him in the starting rotation with left-hander Lucien Freud. Raymond Carver has replaced Randall Jarrell. And here’s the big one. Martin Luther King, Jr., signed at the end of June, has stepped into the starting rotation to replace Marge Piercy.

Lucien Freud is 3-1, Raymond Carver is 2-0, and King is 1-1, including a 1-0 masterpiece in which he beat the Buyers’ Paul Engle.

Here comes the Universe.

OK. But let’s not forget Andy Warhol’s Printers, who are turning their season around.

In a bold stroke, Warhol has added Old Master Hans Holbein the Younger, a southpaw junk pitcher to the starting rotation. He’s 3-0.  “He can paint,” Warhol said. “That helps.” Paul Klee, another lefty, has replaced Stephanie Burt (1-6), and he’s 2-1 since taking over. Marjorie Perloff remains a fixture with 7 wins. Duchamp, the Printers ace, is out for 3 weeks; Toulouse Lautrec is 2-1 so far in his place. John Cage has added a new pitch, and is doing better in relief.

The Printers have also seen a power surge recently—Aristophanes and John Updike both have 18 home runs, tied for second in the division; the Buyers Garcia Lorca has 5 triples and 9 homers. Printers Manager Brian Epstein: “We were the laughing stock of the division for a while. No one’s laughing now.”

Pamela Harriman’s Dreamers, once in first place, are two games behind the Printers. Edna Millay leads the club with 17 round-trippers. Louis MacNeice has 14 dingers, but is out for three weeks with a sore back; Stevie Smith will play first base (and she quickly stroked 3 home runs) in his absence. Ace pitcher Simone de Beauvoir was beginning to establish herself after a long, rough, start, but she’s out now for a couple of weeks—William Godwin has stepped in and pitched very well, but he’s 0-3 in three close games. Also hurt, the Dreamers no. 2 starter, Floyd Dell; Mary Wollstonecraft is 2-1 in that spot. Anais Nin and Margaret Atwood (she began the year 4-0) have been steady lately as starters, and Jean-Paul Sartre joins Germaine Greer, Louise Gluck, bell hooks, Helene Cixous, and Michael Ondaatje in the bullpen. So let’s not forget the Dreamers, either.

What to say about the last place (12 games out) Philadelphia Crash?  Their ace John Crowe Ransom was win-less, finally found his stuff (4-0, 1.10 ERA), but meanwhile, their other 3 starters, Dewey, Wittgenstein, and Pater go 1-9.  Philly fans are screaming for changes, but none seem to be forthcoming. Picasso still anchors a bullpen with Jackson Pollock, I.A. Richards, Kenneth Burke, and Walter Benjamin. “We’ve got the greatest artistic and philosophical minds around,” said A.C. Barnes, who owns the Crash. “You don’t make a change just to make a change.” Stephen Spender leads the team with 11 homers. Allen Tate, John Gould Fletcher, William Carlos Williams, and Richard Howard need to hit more. Manager Giorgio de Chirico is under to pressure to do something, but if Barnes isn’t willing to spend money, what can he do? Some want Giorgio fired, and Henri Matisse, the pitching coach, or Paul Cezanne, the first base coach, to replace him. It really comes down to the performance of these three pitchers: Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Dewey, and Walter Pater. Will the Crash finally lose patience with them?

We talked to one of them, John Dewey.

Scarriet: Hi John, thanks for talking to us.

Dewey: Nice to be here.

Scarriet: You were 4-4 at the end of May.

Dewey: Yeah, I felt I was doing really well!

Scarriet: Wittgenstein was 4-5; Pater had only 2 wins, but was 6-6 in games he started.

Dewey: Everyone is so good in this league. You can’t expect to win all your games!

Scarriet: But John Crowe Ransom, your ace: 2-10 in games he pitches.  And no wins for John.

Dewey: Yeah, that was tough to watch. He’s brilliant. He was upset. We were all upset.  He’s the best we’ve got.

Scarriet: Was there a ripple effect? The whole team was affected? By John not winning?

Dewey: Oh, it was awful. And there was nothing we could do. His mechanics were okay, there was nothing wrong, per se.

Scarriet: And the whole team feels it.

Dewey: Oh, sure. Games are emotional. But they shouldn’t be. The emotion from winning and losing, that has nothing to do with playing well.

Scarriet: It must have felt good when John won his first game.

Dewey: Yes! He beat the Buyers! 5-1.  We all felt good. Oh, it was great.

Scarriet: The fans want changes. Ransom finally wins, and then you guys, the other guys in the rotation, you have trouble…

Dewey: I know! After Ransom beat Whitman, 5-1, Freud beat me 2-0! Out-pitched me. Then we won that strange game, 4-0, Witty pitches great, Pablo got the win; and then Walter Pater loses 4-2, to Engle. I felt like we could have swept that series. Changes? We have a great pitching staff; we really do. There’s just so many good pitchers in this division…  Every game is…impossible!

Scarriet: And the smallest things, even luck, can mean a win or a loss. Don’t give up! I hope the city of Philadelphia stands behind you.

Dewey: Oh the fans have been alright… I’m proud to play for this team. And Mr. Barnes is a wonderful owner. He is. And now that John is winning, we feel good. It’s a long season. We’ll come back.

Scarriet: John Dewey. It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

Dewey: Thank you.

~~~

 

THE FIVE DIVISIONS IN THE SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL LEAGUE SO FAR

Gary McKeon on | The beatles, Beatles pictures, Paul mccartney

Paul McCartney, lead-off hitter for the London Carriages, has 6 home runs.

EMPEROR DIVISION

The Rome Ceilings have outscored their opponents 84-49 at home—holding them to 2 runs per game, as their spacious outfield, (as big as the Colosseum) and fleet center fielder Edmund Spenser, gobbles up would-be home runs; Milton, Dryden, Ariosto (7-2) and Augustine, with Bach in the bullpen, is all pitching coach Marco Polo, and manager Cardinal Richelieu need. If the Corsica Codes are going to catch the Ceilings, they’re going to have to pitch better, and play better on the road. In his last 5 starts, no. 3 starter Hesiod is 0-5.  Victor Hugo (2B) and W.H. Auden (SS) are hitting a ton, but Napoleon’s infield (Callimachus 1b, Derek Walcott 3b) leads the league in errors. The Madrid Crusaders have to be happy that Mary Angela Douglas played so well filling in for Saint Ephrem at shortstop—Douglas, Aeschylus, and Bradstreet were a murderer’s row from late May to early June. St. John of the Cross and Handel have pitched really well recently. But the big news: Cervantes, the Crusaders manager, has met with Mozart and Beethoven—if either one of these join the Crusaders pitching staff, all bets are off.  The Paris Goths (22-26) are out of contention because of one starter—Baudelaire is on a 9 game losing streak; the ‘cursed’ pitcher has had poor run support (10 runs in his last 7 starts). The Goths’ position players have been dogged by injuries; Tasso and Holderlin, tied with the 3rd most homers on the club, began the year on the bench. Manager Schopenhauer might put Baudelaire in the bullpen for a spell and use newly acquired Goya as a starter. The Rimini Broadcasters, at 22-26, in last place with the Goths, need to decide what to do with George Orwell, who pitched well for the damaged Samuel Coleridge—who is now healthy. The Broadcasters need pitching help (Ben Jonson, their no. 2 starter, has been lackluster) and are close to signing Lacan, Gurdjieff, Frida Kahlo, or Salvador Dali. Nero, the Broadcasters manager, has spoken to all of them.

Standings

Ceilings  Pope Julius II, 31-17  “They also serve who only stand and wait”
Codes Napoleon Bonaparte 25-23 “Let the more loving one be me”
Crusaders Phillip II of Spain 24-24 “If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son let Him have no mercy on me”
Broadcasters Federico Fellini 22-26 “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name”
Goths Charles X 22-26 “Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith”

WINS

Chateaubriand Goths 7-2
Ariosto Ceilings 7-2

Handel Crusaders 6-2
Milton Ceilings 6-4

Homer Codes 5-3
Hegel Codes 5-3
Nabokov Broadcasters 5-4
Aquinas Crusaders 5-5

Relief

Bach Ceilings 5-2

GLORIOUS DIVISION

The first place London Carriages swept the Laureates in Dublin—as Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Bronte combined to throw a 4-0, 11 inning shut out, and William Hazlitt beat Samuel Johnson in a 2-1 pitching duel. When the Laureates tried to repay the favor, and beat the Carriages 3 out of 4 in London; Virginia Woolf avoided the sweep, out-pitching Thomas Peacock 2-1.  The Carriages (27-21) swept the Florence Banners (25-23) when they first visited London, Andrew Marvell beating Dante 5-0. The second time the Carriages hosted the Banners, they lost 3 out of 4 to de Medici’s club, as Virginia Woolf prevailed over Shelley, 3-2.  That’s the difference between the first three teams.  The Devon Sun would be in last place, except John Ruskin won 5 straight replacing the injured J.S. Mill, Bertrand Russell is 5-1 in relief, and William Wordsworth hit some clutch homers. The Sun are tied with the Pistols, who they beat 23-18 and 27-3 in Berlin; however, the Pistols have beat the Sun 6 out of 8 since then. T.S. Eliot finally began winning (5 straight, 2 shutouts) a cursed Pound was sent to the bullpen, and the Pistols enjoyed a power surge from Ted Hughes, John Quinn, and Alistair Crowley.

Standings

Carriages Queen Victoria 27-21
Laureates Nahum Tate 25-23
Banners de Medici 25-23
Pistols Eva Braun 22-26
The Sun PM John Russell 22-26

WINS

Andrew Marvell, Carriages 7-2
Percy Shelley, Banners 7-4

Jonathan Swift, Laureates 6-1
William James, Pistols 6-2

John Ruskin, Sun 5-1
Leonardo da Vinci, Banners 5-2
Virgil, Banners 5-4
Virginia Woolf, Carriages 5-6
T.S. Eliot, Pistols 5-7

Santayana, Pistols 4-4
Samuel Johnson, Laureates 4-4
Dante, Banners 4-5
Emerson, Sun 4-6

Relief

Bertrand Russell, Sun 5-1
Livy, Laureates 5-1

SOCIETY DIVISION

The Boston Secrets have 10 wins in relief, while starters Plato and Pushkin have excelled; starters Poe and Moliere have been disappointing, and the Secrets haven’t exactly knocked the cover off the ball, but defense, and coming out on top in close contests, find Ben Franklin’s team solidly in first. No other team in the Society Division is playing over .500—the Connecticut Actors (24-24) are relying on Byron (6-0 in his last 8 starts) Chaucer (3 shutouts), and Thomas Nashe (12 home runs) and not much else. The Manhattan War need Shakespeare to pitch better, but he has won 5 games, and has been out-dueled a couple of times; he’ll be fine. Stephen Crane is the only one really hitting for the War. Philip Sidney (4 home runs) has been playing hurt (foot).  The Fairfield (Connecticut) Animals are tied with the War, and scoring runs is even more of a problem for them—Wallace Stevens, their clean-up hitter, has only 5 home runs. Seamus Heaney, their leader, has 8. P.T. Barnum’s club is scoring enough for Amy Lowell—she has one of the best records in the league. Herman Melville has been a study in futility, however. He’s 1-9. The Virginia Strangers are losing close games; Lovecraft is not scaring anyone in relief; Camus is 2-8; Pope, their ace, is 5-4. Rimbaud, Rabelais, and Roethke are providing pop. Manager Bram Stoker is talking to Luis Bunuel and Jean-Luc Godard about helping the Strangers bullpen.

Standings

The Secrets Ben Franklin 29-19
The Actors Harvey Weinstein 24-24
The War J.P. Morgan 23-25
The Animals P.T. Barnum 23-25
The Strangers David Lynch 21-27

WINS

Plato, Secrets 8-3

Amy Lowell, Animals 7-1

Walter Scott, War 6-2
Byron, Actors 6-3
Remarque, War 6-4
Verne, Animals 6-5

Pushkin, Secrets 5-1
Chaucer, Actors 5-3
Pope, Strangers 5-4
Nietzsche, Strangers 5-4
Shakespeare, War 5-4

Petronius, Actors 4-3
Hume, War 4-6

Relief

Lovecraft, Strangers 4-1
Shirley Jackson, Animals 4-1

PEOPLES DIVISION

The Kolkata Cobras were not happy when Tulsidas agreed to play right field with Lorenzo de Medici’s Ceilings, but the Cobras have done just fine without him, depending heavily on the 20th century and English. Ramavtar Sarma and Acharya Shivapujan Sahay were just added to the bullpen, to help Kabir Das, Nissim Ezekiel, Krishnamurti, Faiz A. Faiz, and Raja Rao, as manager Rupi Kaur and pitching coach V.S. Naipal struggle to find the right combination there. Herman Hesse is 3-5 as the fourth starter, but Rumi, Tagore, and Gandhi are a combined 21-7.  Javed Akhtar, Vikram Seth, George Harrison, and Anand Thakore have combined for 145 RBIs, while Samar Sen and Allen Ginsberg have scored 55 times at the top of the order. The Beijing Waves, in second place, are 17-7 at home, with Lao Tzu as a starter and Confucius in relief, their top hurlers. Khomeini in the bullpen, and Voltaire and Rousseau as starters, have been big disappointments. Ho Chi Minh, Lenin, Engles, and Lu Xun are in the mix in relief. Jack Dorsey, the Waves manager, is at his wit’s end trying to find pitching for Chairman Mao’s team. Li Po, Tu Fu, and Karl Marx are hitting well in the middle of the order, but they need more from Brecht, Li He, and Neruda. The Santa Barbara Laws are playing much better away from home than the Waves, and are tied with them for second place, as John Donne and Thomas Hardy lead the Laws in homers. The good news for the 25-23 Laws is the recent performance of 3 of their starters—Aristotle, Francis Bacon, and Oliver Wendell Holmes are all 4-1 in their last 6 starts. Quintilian has been added to help Mark Van Doren in relief. The Tokyo Mist and the LA Gamers are the current bottom feeders in the Peoples Division. Yukio Mishima (6-4, 2.10 ERA)  has been a pleasant surprise for the Mist, filling in for the injured Heraclitus as the no. 3 starter, and has certainly earned a spot on the team. Basho and Issa as starters, Kobe Abe and D.T. Suzuki in relief, have not been good. John Lennon, Hilda Doolittle, and Yoko Ono are not hitting in Tokyo, as the Mist have a terrible home record.  The Mist are 4-12 against the Waves, but are playing .500 against everyone else. The Gamers are 1-7 against the Cobras. James Tate has started to win, but Derrida is 0-4 in his last 4 starts, and Democritus replaced the injured E.E. Cummings only to go 1-4. Lewis Carroll, the Gamers ace, has contributed to the slide, not able to win in his last 4 starts. Ionesco leads the Gamers with 11 homers. Manager Bob Hope is talking to both Woody Allen and Muhammad Ali about joining the bullpen. Merv Griffin is also trying to woo W.H. Auden away from Napoleon’s Codes in the Emperor Division. Auden, critically esteemed, yet a champion of Light Verse, would be an ideal fit for the Gamers.  But Auden is leading his division in homers and seems to love playing in Corsica, so that move is doubtful.

Standings

The Cobras, Satyajit Ray 29-19
The Waves, Chairman Mao 25-23
The Laws, Dick Wolf 25-23
The Mist, Kurosawa 20-28
The Gamers, Merv Griffin 19-29

WINS

J. Rumi, Cobras 7-1
R. Tagore, Cobras 7-3
M. Gandhi, Cobras 7-3

Lao Tzu, Waves 6-2
Yukio Mishima, Mist 6-4
Lucretius, Waves 6-4

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, Laws 5-2
Yone Noguchi, Mist 5-3
Lewis Carroll, Gamers 5-5
James Tate, Gamers 5-5
Francis Bacon, Laws 5-6

Relief wins

Confucius, Waves 6-2

MODERN DIVISION

The Chicago Buyers have the best record in the whole league, even as Freud has stopped winning and their bullpen has not been effective.  But Freud started out 5-0, and now the other 3 starters have taken over: in their last 6 starts, Whitman is 3-1,  Twain is 4-1, and Paul Engle is 4-1. Elizabeth Bishop has more home runs than anybody (20), plus Dylan Thomas has 14, and Robert Lowell has 10. The Arden Dreamers have cooled after a hot start and now they’re in second place—under .500 and 9 games behind the Buyers. Margaret Atwood and Anais Nin have each won 5 for the Dreamers, but Germaine Greer is 2-6 in relief. Manager Averell Harriman would love Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to join their bullpen. Talks are underway. Run-scoring is not a problem for the Dreamers. Sharon Olds, Edna Millay, and Louis MacNeice have knocked in 129 runs between them. Bob Dylan (.311 batting average, 9 home runs) finally got hot for the Phoenix Universe, but manager Billy Beane knows they have to make a move, as they are 10 games out of first and not one of their pitchers has been outstanding. Steven Spielberg’s Universe is talking to everyone, including Jack London, Octavio Paz, and MLK Jr. The Manhattan Printers have been playing much better lately. John Updike is their home run leader with 14, and Duchamp and Marjorie Perloff have been on fire—Duchamp is 4-1 and Perloff is 5-0 in their last 7 starts; Stephanie Burt, and Mark Rothko, however, have been dismal; Burt is 0-4 in his last 6 trips to the hill, Rothko has not won in his last 5 outings. That leaves us with the Philadelphia Crash, 13 games out of first.  The only bright spot is Pablo Picasso in relief (7-2). Allen Tate leads them with 8 homers. Walter Pater hasn’t won in 6 starts, John Dewey is 0-1 in his last 4, and their ace, John Crowe Ransom, has yet to notch a win. Manager Giorgio de Chirico and Henri Matisse are doing what they can to keep Ransom’s confidence up. The Crash lost Ransom’s first four starts by one run, and he was tossed for throwing at hitters in one of those close games. Pitchers Clement Greenberg and Roger Fry are said to be close to signing for the last-place Crash.

Standings

The Buyers John D. Rockefeller 32-16
The Dreamers Pamela Harriman 23-25
The Universe Steven Spielberg 22-26
The Printers Andy Warhol 21-27
The Crash A.C. Barnes 19-29

WINS

Paul Engle, Buyers 8-2

Mark Twain, Buyers 7-2

Margaret Atwood, Dreamers 5-3
Anais Nin, Dreamers 5-4
Marjorie Perloff, Printers 5-4
Freud, Buyers 5-4

Walt Whitman, Buyers 4-2
Duchamp, Printers 4-3

Relief Wins

Picasso, Crash 7-2

HOME RUNS  —LEAGUE LEADERS

Elizabeth Bishop, Buyers 20 (Modern Div)

William Yeats, Pistols 16 (Glorious Div)
Charles Dickens, Laureates 16 (Glorious Div)

James Joyce, Pistols 15

WH Auden Codes 15 (Emperor Div)

Sharon Olds, Dreamers 14
John Updike, Printers 14
Dylan Thomas, Buyers 14

Edna Millay, Dreamers 13
Aristophanes, Printers 13
Louis MacNeice, Dreamers 13
Aphra Behn, Laureates 13
Aeschylus Crusaders 13
Sophocles Goths 13
Anne Bradstreet Crusaders 13
Stephen Crane, War 13 (Society Div)

Victor Hugo Codes 12
Friedrich Schiller, Banners 12
Thomas Nashe, Actors 12
Vikram Seth, Cobras 12 (Peoples Div)
Javed Akhtar, Cobras 12 (Peoples Div)

Heinrich Heine Goths 11
Arthur Rimbaud, Strangers 11
Ionesco, Gamers 11
Li Po, Waves 11

Lord Tennyson, Carriages 10
Ted Hughes, Pistols 10
Emily Dickinson, Secrets 10
George Harrison, Cobras 10
John Donne, Laws 10
Robert Lowell, Buyers 10

Edmund Spenser Ceilings 9
Rilke Broadcasters 9
Robert Burns Broadcasters 9
Robert Browning, Carriages 9
William Wordsworth, Sun 9
Alexandre Dumas, Laureates 9
Thomas Hardy, Laws 9
Karl Marx, Waves 9
Bob Dylan, Universe 9
Juvenal, Universe 9

Tu Fu, Waves 8
John Lennon, Mist 8
Seamus Heaney, Animals 8
Mary Angela Douglas Crusaders 8
Jean Racine Codes 8
Allen Tate, Crash 8
Stephen Spender, Crash 8
Muriel Rukeyser, Dreamers 8
Matthew Arnold Sun 8
Henry Longfellow Carriages 8
GB Shaw Carriages 8

Anne Sexton Broadcasters 7
Robert Frost, Secrets 7
Francois Rabelais, Strangers 7
Theodore Roethke, Strangers 7
Billy Collins, Gamers 7
Thomas Hood, Gamers 7
Anand Thakore, Cobras 7
Hilda Doolitte, Mist 7
Martial, Laws 7
Paul Celan, Universe 7
Kenneth Koch, Printers 7
John Quinn Pistols 7
HG Wells Sun 7
Basil Bunting Sun 7

Woody Guthrie, Secrets 6
Harry Crosby, War 6
Hafiz, Actors 6
Euripides Ceilings 6
Kenneth Rexroth, Buyers 6
Anthony Hecht, Universe 6
Hart Crane, Printers 6
Wole Soyinka Codes 6
JK Rowling Laureates 6
Sara Teasdale Laureates 6
Paul McCartney Carriages 6
Haruki Murakami Mist 6
Sadakichi Hartman Mist 6

Joe Green Gamers 5
Tasso Goths 5
John Paul II Crusaders 5
Holderlin Goths 5
Wallace Stevens Animals 5
Phillis Wheatley Crusaders 5
Jim Morrison Broadcasters 5
Knut Hamsun Strangers 5
Amiri Baraka Actors 5
Gwendolyn Brooks Actors 5
Lawrence Ferlinghetti Animals 5
Boris Pasternak Laureates 5
Christina Rossetti Banners 5
Ben Mazer Banners 5
Alistair Crowley Pistols 5
Sir John Davies Sun 5
Yoko Ono Mist 5
Donald  Davidson Crash 5
Federico Garcia Lorca Printers 5
Robert Penn Warren Buyers 5
John Gould Fletcher Crash 5
Stevie Smith Dreamers 5
Richard Lovelace Dreamers 5
Jack Gilbert Dreamers 5

Maya Angelou Universe 4
Edgar Lee Masters Buyers 4
Duke Ellington Buyers 4
John Crowe Ransom Crash 4
Andre Breton Printers 4
John Ashbery Printers 4
Kalidasa Cobras 4
Donald Hall Laws 4
Ghalib Laureates 4
DG Rossetti Banners 4
Dante Banners 4
Geoffrey Hill Carriages 4
Phillip Sidney War 4
Shakespeare War 4
Derek Walcott Codes 4
William Blake Ceilings 4
Thomas Chatterton Goths 4
de Stael Goths 4
John Milton Ceilings 4
Michelangelo Ceilings 4

Oliver Goldsmith, Laureates 3
John Townsend Trowbridge Laureates 3
Glyn Maxwell, Banners 3
Ford Maddox Ford, Pistols 3
D.H. Lawrence, Pistols 3
Olga Rudge Pistols 3
Filippo Marinetti Pistols 3
Alfred Orage Pistols 3
Margaret Fuller Sun 3
Rudyard Kipling Sun 3
Horace Walpole Sun 3
Carol Ann Duffy Carriages 3
Elizabeth Barrett Carriages 3
Carl Sandburg Secrets 3
Nathaniel Hawthorne Secrets 3
Paul Simon Secrets 3
Robert Graves War 3
Marianne Moore Animals 3
Ovid Animals 3
Jack Spicer Animals 3
Reinhold Neibuhr Crusaders 3
Robert Herrick Goths 3
Callimachus Codes 3
Jules Laforgue Codes 3
Mick Jagger Broadcasters 3
Francois Villon Codes 3
Gottfried Burger Laws 3
Reed Whitmore Laws 3
Jane Kenyon Laws 3
Antonio Machado Laws 3
Ernest Thayer Gamers 3
Noel Coward Gamers 3
Bertolt Brecht Waves 3
Gary Snyder Mist 3
Natsume Soseki Mist 3
Izumi Shikabu Mist 3
Li He Waves 3
Allen Ginsberg Cobras 3
Walt Whitman Buyers 3
Carolyn Forche Dreamers 3
Lou Reed Printers 3
Archilochus Crash 3
WC Williams Crash 3
Chuck Berry Universe 3
Delmore Schwartz Universe 3

Joyce Kilmer Crusaders 2
Saint Ephrem Crusaders 2
James Russell Lowell Ceilings 2
Mina Loy Codes 2
John Clare Codes 2
Vladimir Nabokov Broadcasters 2
Giacomo Leopardi Broadcasters 2
Gregory Corso Broadcasters 2
Edgar Poe Secrets 2
Cole Porter Secrets 2
Wilfred Owen War 2
Apollinaire War 2
Alan Seeger War 2
T.E. Hulme War 2
James Dickey War 2
Robinson Jeffers Animals 2
Mary Shelley Strangers 2
Marilyn Hacker Actors 2
David Bowie Actors 2
Lucille Clifton Actors 2
Rod McKuen Laureates 2
Van Morrison Laureates 2
Thomas Wyatt Banners 2
Stefan George Banners 2
Thomas Moore Banners 2
Guido Cavalcanti Banners 2
John Keats Banners 2
T.S. Eliot Pistols 2
Gertrude Stein Pistols 2
Carl Jung Pistols 2
Dorothy Shakespeare Pistols 2
Ralph Waldo Emerson Sun 2
Marilyn Chin Sun 2
Joy Harjo Sun 2
Joseph Addison Sun 2
Richard Steele Sun 2
Philip Larkin Carriages 2
Sylvia Plath Carriages 2
Simone de Beauvoir Dreamers 2
Jorie Graham Buyers 2
Marcel Duchamp  Printers 2
Larry Levis Universe 2
Christopher Isherwood Printers 2
Stanley Kunitz Crash 2
Franz Werfel Crash 2
Galway Kinnell Universe 2
James Baldwin Printers 2

Scarriet Poetry Baseball Reporting

SHARON OLDS, EDNA MILLAY, MARGARET ATWOOD IGNITE PAMELA HARRIMAN’S DREAMERS

CBC Archives

Pamela Harriman’s Dreamers lead the Modern Division with a 12-4 record, thanks to Edna Vincent Millay’s 8 home runs, Sharon Olds’ 8 home runs, and Margaret Atwood’s 4-0 2.20 ERA record.

Atwood leads the entire Scarriet Poetry Baseball league in wins, and only the Carriages in the Glorious Division have as many wins as the red-hot Dreamers.

Anais Nin is 3-0 (1.40 ERA) and Germaine Greer has a couple of wins in relief.

Pitching coach Susan Sontag couldn’t be more happy, but she’s focused on the future and its details. “We’re working on Simone [de Beauvoir] not to over-throw. It will lead to wildness, and then she’s pitching behind in the count. This is very exciting [Scarriet Poetry Baseball] and some players get a little too excited; who can blame them?” Simone de Beauvoir (8.90 ERA) has 4 no-decisions in 4 starts, and in those 4 starts alone, the Dreamers have yielded more than half the runs they’ve allowed.

The Dreamers magic definitely lies so far with the starting pitching of Floyd Dell, Nin, and Atwood— together they are 9-2 with a 1.90 ERA.

“So far it’s working,” said Dreamers manager Averell Harriman; “with Olds on deck, they have to pitch to Millay, and she’s responded, and then after the damage done by Millay, Olds faces a somewhat shaken pitcher.”

Edna Millay bats third in the order, ahead of Olds in the cleanup spot—their 16 home runs engine is comparable to Joyce (8 Hrs) and Yeats (8 HRs) batting third and fourth for the Pistols. Tennyson and Longfellow for the Carriages have combined for 11 homers; Aeschylus and Bradstreet have 9 for the Crusaders; Li Po and Marx have 8 for the Waves; Rimbaud and Rabelais 7 for the Strangers.

The Dreamers, who play in lovely Arden Hamlet, about an hour’s drive north of New York City, better not look back, however.  Right behind them in the Modern division at 11-5 are John D. Rockefeller’s The Buyers, who play in New York City, and they are tied with the Pistols and the Dreamers for the best 1-2 punch in the League: 16 homers have come from Robert Lowell (6) and Elizabeth Bishop—she leads all players with 10 home runs. Dylan Thomas, who bats fourth, has added 3; Kenneth Rexroth, in a surprise, has launched 4.

The Buyers, managed by Charles Darwin, have a solid pitching corps of Whitman, Freud, Twain, and Paul Engle; and they recently got bullpen help from newly signed Judith Butler, who quickly picked up two wins in relief. Helen Vendler, their stopper, is on the disabled list.  If there is one stat that says the most, it might be runs scored and runs allowed, and the Buyers have the most impressive one in the whole league: 91 runs scored, 56 runs allowed. But will Bishop and Lowell continue to hit this way?  We’ll see.

No pitcher for the Crash, owned by A.C. Barnes, (manager Giorgio de Chirico; pitching coach Henri Matisse,) is doing particularly well. Their ace, John Crowe Ransom, is winless.  John Dewey, their no. 2, starter is 2-2, but lost 18-1 in his third start. The Crash are led by John Gould Fletcher’s four homers, followed by Allen Tate with two.

The Philadelphia Crash are 5-11, as are the Phoenix Universe, Steven Spielberg’s club, managed by Money Ball genius Billy Beane; Tom Hanks is their pitching coach. Juvenal has provided the pop for the Universe; he has clubbed 6 homers, but Bob Dylan, batting third, has only hit one; Anthony Hecht, batting 8th, is second to Juvenal, with 2 homers. Foucault has won a couple of games for the Universe in relief, but their starting pitching has been pretty miserable: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Randall Jarrell and Marge Piercy are all 0-3; Harold Bloom is the bright spot at 2-1 with a healthy 2.78 ERA.

Finally, we have the Printers, Andy Warhol’s team, in last place with a 4-12 record. Their manager is Brian Epstein.  They have yielded 98 runs.  They pounded the Dreamers 20-2 in one game, and lost another to them 15-18; John Updike has hit 5 homers for the Printers in the cleanup spot; Aristophanes has 4, batting third; Hart Crane and Kenneth Koch each have 2.  Don’t ask about the pitching: Duchamp is 0-1, with 3 no decisions, Marjorie Perloff is 0-3, Stephanie Burt is 0-2, and Mark Rothko is 0-4. Pitching coach Peggy Guggenheim points to relievers who are getting lots of work and responding to it well—John Cage, F.O. Matthiessen, and new addition Hilton Kramer together have won 4 games. “The starters just need to loosen up, relax and get into a groove,” Ms. Guggenheim said; “Brian [the manager] and I are not worried.”

Richard Lovelace (pronounced “loveless”) has boomed three homers for the successful Dreamers in the second position in the lineup; Carolyn Forche, batting lead off, has stolen six bases and scored 17 runs. Pamela Harriman’s team, despite being managed by hubby Averell Harriman, a 20th century commercial/political titan, is dominated by women.  Lovelace, the Dreamers third-baseman, a Renaissance lyric poet, and one of the few men with the club, hitting .399 and having a wonderful time so far, is the author of these famous lines:

Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

Neither batting box nor strike zone have contained, so far, these Dreamers of Dame Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman.

STANDINGS

Harriman’s Dreamers 12-4 — Runs 91, Allowed 76

Rockefeller’s Buyers 11-5 —Runs 91, Allowed 56

Spielberg’s Universe 5-11 —Runs 54, Allowed 70

Barnes’ Crash 5-11 —Runs 53, Allowed 84

Warhols’ Printers 4-12 —Runs 79, Allowed 98

LEADERS

Wins

Margaret Atwood, Dreamers 4-0 ERA 2.20

Anais Nin, Dreamers 3-0 ERA 1.40
Freud, Buyers 3-0 ERA 3.10

Harold Bloom, Universe 2-1 ERA 2.66
Paul Engle, Buyers 2-1 ERA 3.25
Floyd Dell, Dreamers 2-2 ERA 4.23
John Dewey, Crash 2-2 ERA 5.12

Relief

Foucault, Universe 2-1 ERA 0.90
F.O. Matthiessen, Printers 2-0 ERA 1.18
Judith Butler, Buyers 2-0 ERA 1.22
Germaine Greer, Dreamers 2-2 ERA 4.09

HRS

Elizabeth Bishop, Buyers 10

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dreamers 8
Sharon Olds, Dreamers 8

Robert Lowell, Buyers 6
Juvenal, Universe 6

John Updike, Printers 5

Aristophanes, Printers 4
John Gould Fletcher, Crash 4
Kenneth Rexroth, Buyers 4

~~~

Scarriet Poetry Baseball News

THAT I CAN SIT HERE AND TURN THESE PAGES AND NOT DIE: BEN MAZER’S LANDMARK EDITION OF HARRY CROSBY’S POEMS

The arrest of Dora Marsden, 30th March, 1909

SELECTED POEMS OF HARRY CROSBY, Ben Mazer, ed, MAD HAT PRESS, 6/22/20

DECEMBER 10, 1929

That I can sit here and turn these pages and not die,
As you did, Harry Crosby, when the time was right,
Saying goodbye to Caresse, as you and Josephine turned out the light,
Every poem leading up to your death was just the way it had to have been,
Unless we don’t know that—because of freedom.

No one published your poems for 87 years, until Ben Mazer,
Who finds everything in the darkness of letters, like a laser.
I think of the Tell-Tale Heart when the old poetry had to die
And new poetry opened the door and shot light into the dark room onto the eye.

I can hear T.S. Eliot breathing low
In the stuffy rooms at Cambridge
When during the weekend Pound decided to come down.
Now, after another 27 difficult years, Robert Lowell sits there, remorseful, in his dressing gown.

The sun! give me the sun,
The true dawn, or none.
Give me the diary, Harry, give me the gun.
Was there freedom,
Too much freedom, too much—or absolutely none?

Ben Mazer, poet and editor, born in 1964, is saving poetry from its 20th century catastrophe.

He personally rescued Landis Everson, the most obscure figure of the San Francisco Renaissance, and found him publishing outlets.

He edited The Selected Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (Harvard University Press).

He edited the Complete Poems of John Crowe Ransom (The American South’s T.S. Eliot), noticed in a review by Helen Vendler in the New York Review of Books.

He recently received the green light from FSG to compile the first Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz.

And now, perhaps the most exciting of all.  Harry Crosby.

Ben Mazer is seeing into publication this year, as editor, the Selected Poems of Harry Crosby, allowing the world to see this central figure for the first time since this Back Bay rich boy (nephew to J.P. Morgan) danced on the world’s stage and self-published his poetry almost 100 years ago.

Crosby belonged to poetry’s One True Circle which overlapped, as one would expect, with the worlds of High Finance, War Profits, and Modern Painting.  Crosby knew Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, DH Lawrence, among others, and was mentored by a wealthy gentleman, Walter Berry (Crosby got his book collection when Berry died in 1927 a few days before Crosby’s 30th birthday) who knew Henry James and Marcel Proust.

Crosby, however, has been utterly forgotten.

Why?

This is what makes Mazer’s project so exciting. Crosby exemplified, perhaps more than any other poet, the One True Circle of 20th Century Anglo-American Poetry, the Who’s Who of Modern Poetry All Intellectuals Know. 

Crosby was the craziest of all.  The really embarrassing one.  He was loved.  But he was excluded—that is, written out of the canon. 

The insane, tabloid, side of the One True Circle is embarrassing, and much of it is not fit for school.

A 20th century poet, to be known, had to be taught in school.  Ezra Pound and WC Williams were as unknown as Harry Crosby, when a couple of government-connected New Critics, in the middle of the 20th Century, put Pound and Williams in a college textbook, Understanding Poetry.

License.

The license of those times, the moral looseness of the One True Circle itself, was one kind of very real license. This was widely understood.

The poems selected for especial praise by the editors of Understanding Poetry were two very brief ones—one by Williams, and one by his U Penn friend, Pound—describing plainly, a red wheel barrow, and petals on a black bough.

Poems praised—and yet poems anyone could write.

The other kind of license was the one for the public at large.

The poetry establishment, without directly saying so, was giving the public license.  The Petals-and-Wheel Barrow clique was rather priestly and private, but it’s implicit message to the reading public was loud and clear: to be a Byron was now a snap—poetry was now extremely brief and extremely easy.

Harry Crosby did not write a two line poem on flower petals or a five or six line poem on a wheel barrow.

Crosby went Williams and Pound one better.

Harry Crosby produced a one line poem:

a naked lady in a yellow hat

Crosby was too hot to handle for a college textbook in the 1930s; Crosby made the tabloids when he shot himself on December 10th 1929, in a suicide pact with his mistress.

Pound and Williams were more attractive.

First, they were alive; second, their poems were austere and moral compared to Crosby’s—who more accurately (and this was a problem in itself) reflected the unfettered, anything-goes, private-parties-of-the-rich sensibility of the One True Circle.

But now Pound and Williams are also dead.

And we can handle anything.

And as we disentangle ourselves from the selling of poetry—the selling that was very consciously done by the One True Circle in the 20th century— and view poetry and the One True Circle more discerningly, we can welcome Harry Crosby into the wider fold, and allow him his rightful place in a pantheon which may be sordid and embarrassing, but is necessary, not only for historical study, but for poetry, itself.

Mazer is also, for those who know his work, perhaps the most important American poet writing today.  His Selected Poems is recently published.

Americans don’t speak much of 21st century poetry. The whole thing is too embarrassing.  Too painful.

There isn’t one critically acclaimed, popular, anything in poetry left.

There’s merely a cool kids list which changes every few months.

There is no poetry, in terms of centralized recognition.

We now live in the Great Empty Hangover of a 1920s Gatsby party.

New Jersey poet Louis Ginsberg was a Nudist Camp member, and belonged to the One True Circle—in particular: Alfred Kreymborg/WC Williams/Ezra Pound/Wallace Stevens/Man Ray/Duchamp. His son was Allen Ginsberg.

Ginsberg, who gained fame, like Baudelaire and Joyce, from obscenity controversy, died in 1997.

Maya Angelou died in 2014.

John Ashbery—known for poetry which “makes no sense,” associated with Modern Art circles in New York City, including Peggy Guggenheim—a modern Gertrude Stein, who was awarded his Yale Younger Poets Award by W.H. Auden, died in 2017.

No one has replaced these figures.

A few replacement figures may exist, poets who knew Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, for instance, but the magnetic pull which holds pieces of inspiration together—think of Plato’s Ion—just isn’t strong enough. These figures may be on poetry lists, but the public doesn’t know them.

The total absence of poetry in the 21st century, its complete de-centered, trivial, existence is the void now faced by Mazer with his lantern.

Here’s an example. The Essential T.S. Eliot was just published (April 2020), reprinting the better-known poems and one essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”

The only thing new in the Essential T.S. Eliot is the introduction by Vijay Seshadri. A nice essay.  He has the slick, academic, ‘priesthood patter’ down—Pound and Eliot are profound and wonderful in all sorts of (World War One! The Horror!) ways.

However, in this new, rather sizeable introduction, no one after the middle of the 20th century is mentioned.  

I find this very interesting. The occasion of reprinting T.S. Eliot, in 2020, is cause for not even the faintest flutter in the post-Eliot Tradition.

So what is all this fuss about the Tradition, then?

Does it stop with Eliot and Pound?

Walt Whitman makes an appearance in the introduction—Seshadri tells us Eliot and Whitman are opposites, but also informs us that both were reactionary in their politics and both were influenced by a terrible war.

The most recent figure mentioned in Seshadri’s introduction is Hugh Kenner.  Seshadri reminds us that Bertrand Russell—son of Lord Russell, Prime Minster of England when Whitman was writing—slept with Eliot’s wife. Well, what would an examination of the One True Circle be, after all, without a Harry Crosby type of anecdote?

Eliot, and especially his associate, Ezra Pound—-both unknown and hungry during World War One—as mature, middle-aged, literary figures, both bet, essentially, on the Axis Powers to win World War Two. The second half of the 20th century, therefore, saw the entire sensibility of poetry, unlike the booming, victorious-over-Hitler, United States itself, become a high brow contest to see who could best apologize for what we were told was the best of our poetry—which had lost.

The worst “loser,” the embodiment of all that was lauded in the “new” poetry, was Ezra Pound—a T.S. Eliot objection away from being hung as a traitor in Italy in 1945. Ezra Pound, the irascible, cash-handy, “Make It New” deal-maker, the flesh of the poetry that was supposed to carry us forward to new heights of insight and interest.

But a curious thing happened.

As the 20th century went on, the “new” poetry, instead of taking us forward, took us back.

Poetry kept returning to Ezra Pound, Imagiste poet of World War One; it kept going back to T.S. Eliot and The Waste Land, which will be a hundred years old in 2022; this was the narrative: Pound, Eliot, Pound, Eliot.

But what of us?  What of the next generations?  Well, you had Ashbery, the late 20th century god, chosen by Auden—who had been chosen by Eliot.  There was simply no escape.  The One True Circle, which began in William James’ mental laboratory, kept shining. The rest of us could go to hell.

The One Circle trapped us in so many ways.

The 1970s pot-smoking professors trapped us, with their unreadable doctoral theses on Finnegan’s Wake and The Cantos.

There was the poetry itself which trapped us, the poetry which now anybody could write, and they did: your professor, your classmates, all the while doing the necessary obeisance to the “new” poetry—the crappy sort of poetry so easy to write—it only had to be obscure enough, which made it possible for anyone to believe they were a poet—as long as poetry that was actually good was kept, as much as possible, out of sight.

The poetry that was actually good was anything studied, anthologized, and written, prior to the existence of the One True Circle—that is, whatever Pound and Eliot dismissed: Milton, Poe, Shakespeare.

The past had to be read selectively, based on the One True Circle’s recommendations—one couldn’t just love old poetryno, that was forbiddenVillon, yes.  The “French Symbolists.” Yes. Rimbaud was terribly, terribly cool, even in a Bob Dylan, son of Woody Guthrie, sort of way. Even though no one knew what Rimbaud was talking about. (For a while we didn’t know what Dylan was talking about.) Obscurity was always good.  So Rimbaud was good. Baudelaire was good, no, great, because he was completely wretched. It was as if Baudelaire were alive during WW I!  So he was good. And French, of course, was good. A few tortured passages by Donne. Yes. That was okay, too. Pre-Raphaelite was very good. Because it was prior to the Renaissance, you see. And the Renaissance, because it was truly good, was very, very bad. Byron, Poe, Milton, Elizabeth Barrett, Edna Millay, Sara Teasdale. No way.  Millay and Teasdale were especially annoying, because they wrote a little too much beautiful poetry that actually was good, and they also had the audacity to be contemporary. Hugh Kenner, the Pound fan, was quick to dismiss Millay. And those in the One True Circle nodded silently.

So here we are in 2020, with a big poetic nothing.

We are still talking about Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, or Pound’s friend, WC Williams.

And exactly in the way the New Critics wanted us to talk about them.  The “difficult,” academic-priestly, text-centered way, is how we appropriately baffle ourselves.

There is only one thing which can be discussed outside the text.

World War One’s horrors.

It isn’t so much that we shouldn’t be talking about Eliot.  Certainly, we should. He was a good poet, and a good critic, and the Great War did happen, after all.

But what about everybody else?  What about the big future nothing which the cloudy, morbid, obsession with Modernism has created?

We hear, over and over again, how Eliot’s entire poetic being was a casualty of WW I, (the way “mad Ireland hurt” Yeats “into poetry”—Auden) but Modernist critics never stop to think how maybe the reader is a casualty of Modernism, which came about, as every Modernist is quick to point out, in de rigueur wretched tones, because of a horrific war.  If the horrific war was real, and Modernism’s reaction to it was real, then here is the Romantic poison drunk during the French Revolution—only we can’t talk about the French Revolution, because the One True Circle needs to be historically exclusive, as we see time and time again. Go back—but only to Pound and World War One, please. Stop there. And then, and only then, perhaps, you may perhaps travel indirectly back—as long as you don’t lose the thread, and forget that it connects to Pound—to, let’s say, Rimbaud, the anti-Romantic.

And never, never say the Modernist poets were part of the same group that produced World War One.  Always portray the Modernist poets as victims of the Great War.  Even if Ford Maddox Ford worked in the War Propaganda Office. Whatever you do, don’t mention that! Modernism was a burning cauldron heated by the fires of World War One.  And it melted everything.  That is all.

We bet on the Pound clique, and lost.

After the war, Pound had to be rescued; somehow World War Two had to be forgotten; unlike WW I, there was no WW II poetry of any note.

The Bollingen Prize—the first one—in 1949, was the stamp of approval, the swift and necessary repair of Pound’s reputation. Had Pound been quickly shot as a traitor, the poetry of our age would look entirely different.

The Bollingen Prize was presented to Pound, (amid howls of protest, of course) by three judges W.H. Auden, TS Eliot, and Conrad Aiken.

The One True Circle had to defend itself; it almost imploded, as World War Two made World War One temporarily irrelevant.  Thank God for the Bollingen and 1949!

New Critic and Southerner Allen Tate, who New Englander Robert Lowell worshiped (his eyes on the One True Circle) helped start the Writing Program at Princeton—where professor RP Blackmur taught the younger Princeton creative writing professor John Berryman how to drink—ending in Berryman’s suicide at the U. of Minnesota.

Princeton eventually took over the Bolligen Prize, which was the unofficial life blood of the One True Circle, as the 20th Century progressed, and they give out the Bollignen Prize to this day, the prize itself over-shadowing poets whom no one knows.

The Bollingen continues, but it only exists because Pound had to be saved.

Bollingen, by the way, is the name of the house of Carl Jung. The Bollingen prize originally had non-poetry money attached to it (normal for how poetry grew during the 20th century). Fortunately for the One True Circle, it fell into the lap of Pound’s friend, T.S. Eliot, and the two other judges, who were both Eliot’s friends, at the Library of Congress.

Conrad Aiken and Eliot were old Harvard friends—Harvard profs William James (sometimes known as the Nitrous Oxide Philosopher) and George Santayana, a bachelor who lived the last 20 years of his life in fascist Italy, were the two greatest influences on Aiken and Eliot (as well as Wallace Stevens).

Ralph Waldo Emerson—the antithesis of Poe and friends with T.S. Eliot’s New England grandfather—was William James’ godfather—and William James was the brother of the Great, Inscrutable, Expat, Novelist Henry James. William James was the founder of the first Psychology Department in the United States, at Harvard—and it could be said that William James might be the beginning of the One True Circle, if we must trace it back. (Though it’s in the nature of any True Circle never to be understood.) William James (also known as the Stream-of-Consciousness philosopher, though of course he didn’t invent stream of consciousness) also taught Gertrude Stein (one foot in the Nonsense Poetry Business, one foot in the Modern Painting Business)—she is of course an important member of the One True Circle.  (This game is very easy, but don’t let the ease fool you.)

Eliot was very much like the trans-Atlantic Henry James. The distinguished magazine, The Atlantic, was where Henry James was first published—by William Dean Howells, the editor set up there by Emerson. Eliot’s early tea-cup poetry resembles the novels of Henry James.

The One True Circle is almost entirely made up of men—but women were extremely influential behind the scenes, just as a great deal of non-poetry money was behind the scenes.  Pound needed lots of ready money to be the influence he was, and this mostly came from Pound’s female contacts.

Eliot’s first book (it was really a “pamphlet” according to Seshardri), Prufrock and Other Observations, was subsidized by Pound’s wife and published by the Egoist, a vital Modernist magazine, (Conrad Aiken was the first to review Prufrock and Other Observations—do you see how it works?) and yet the magazine itself, prior to being the Egoist, had been a radical feminist one, The New Freewoman, run by Dora Marsden, before it became, still under her leadership—but guided increasingly by Pound—the Egoist.

Marsden was too radical for even her radical feminist cohorts; she lived the last 40 years of her life as a broken recluse.  She was a passionate believer in radical individualism, feminism, and free love. This is somewhat ironic, given the fact that the mature, “conservative” Eliot excoriated the young Shelley for advocating free love.  Eliot’s career was born on the shoulders of “free love.”  Eliot never had to apologize for his abuse of Shelley, however, because Shelley, the stunning Romantic poet, was persona non grata to Pound’s One True Circle, anyway.

Letters in the 20th century decided to make an American poetry hero out of Ezra Pound and to make College Writing Programs (‘you, too, can be a poet’) the key to success in poetry.

The result: American poetry no longer has a public.

Of course, what happened, happened.  Nothing written here is the attempt to make it all go away. Quite the contrary. We might as well go into it even deeper, if we are to come out of it, and start anew.

Harry Crosby and his Black Sun Press is an important part of that story.

It was suppressed then, and Ben Mazer is bringing it back to light, now.

Mazer’s introduction to Harry’s poems is mostly factual. He details Harry’s life as WW I soldier, poet, and lover. He praises the poetry as having that quality where every reader can see something different in it. He lauds its sincerity. The introduction ends this way:

A notable occasion in Harry’s life was when he witnessed Lindbergh’s landing in Paris on May 20, 1927. On August 1, 1929, he decided that he wanted to learn how to fly. Soon he was taking lessons, and going up with an instructor. Then, he became more and more impatient as he yearned to be allowed to fly solo, but continued to be sent up with an instructor. He was determined to fly solo before departing for America. Finally, on Armistice Day, November 11, Harry completed his first solo flight. Five days later he and Caresse sailed for New York on the Mauretania. On November 18, Harry received a radiogram from Josephine: “IMPATIENT.” On November 22, the Crosbys docked in New York. The next day, Harry visited Josephine before the Harvard-Yale football game. Harry saw much of Josephine in the next two weeks. The final entry in Harry’s diary reads:

One is not in love unless one desires to die with one’s beloved

There is only one happiness it is to love and to be loved

One can get lost in the tabloid excess of Harry’s life.  But there was a tragic Romantic figure beneath the excess—a deeply sensitive man who loved.

The poems of Harry Crosby are bright, fanciful. Here are two samples:

I am endeavoring to persuade a Chinese professor who is at work on a torpedo which he expects to shoot to the sun to allow me to live in the centre of this torpedo

And

a giraffe is gorging himself on sunflowers a Parisian doll is washing herself in a blue fingerbowl while I insist on their electrocution on the grounds of indecency

Crosby’s poetry has a quality which represents the times in which he lived better than anything else that was being published then.

T.S. Eliot thought.

Harry Crosby lived.

The following is one of the most interesting things I found in the book.

This excerpt—from a critical piece Crosby published in the summer of the year he died—proves that Harry belonged, at least in his own mind, to the One True Circle.  You can tell by his likes and dislikes. The following perhaps reveals too much. There is a cult-like worship of those in the One True Circle, which may have even unsettled the members of the One True Circle themselves.  Did Crosby hate Amy Lowell because she was against the U.S. entering World War One—which made his uncle, J.P. Morgan, rich?  Amy Lowell was dedicated to poetry. Pound, police commissioner of the One True Circle, did nothing but ridicule her. And why did Crosby reject a beautiful poet like Edna Saint Vincent Millay?  Perhaps Millay wanted nothing to do with the One True Circle? After all, not everyone liked Ezra Pound.

A well-known phenomenon in the East is the False Dawn, a transient light on the horizon an hour before the True Dawn. The False Dawn = the poets sponsored by Amy Lowell and the Imagists who flickered for a brief instant on the horizon before they dwindled into the Robert Hillyers and Humbert Wolfs, the Edna Saint Vincent Millays, the Walter de la Meres, the Benets and Untermeyers, the Auslanders and Teasdales who spot with their flytracks the bloated pages of our magazines and anthologies. Once again the general reader has been deceived by the False Dawn and has gone back to bed (who can blame him?) thus missing the True Dawn which has definitely appeared on the horizon harbingered by T.S. Eliot, heralded by the Morning Star of Joyce and heliorayed with the bright shafts of Hart Crane, E.E. Cummings, Perse and MacLeish, Gertrude Stein, Desnos, Eluard, Jolas and Kay Boyle.

—Harry Crosby, 1929

Thank you, Ben Mazer.

Harry Crosby and the True Dawn (there was some truth) will always be looking for us.

Those “bright shafts.”

~~~~~
Salem MA, May 1 2020

SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL—HERE WE GO!

Lord Byron In Albanian Dress - 1813 Painting by War Is Hell Store

George Byron in a pensive mood, before taking part in the opening day Scarriet baseball ceremonies.

Happy Easter!

Scarriet has expanded and restructured its baseball league!!

Gone the 2 leagues of 20 teams led by 20 American poets—Eliot, Pound, Frost, Poe, Williams, Stevens, Moore, Dickinson, Millay, Jorie Graham, Ginsberg, Ransom, Cummings, Whittier, Whitman, Bryant, Longfellow, James Lowell, Ashbery, and Emerson.

Now poets like Emerson, Eliot and Poe can be player/managers—to contribute to their teams both at the plate and in the field.

The field is more international—Scarriet Poetry Baseball is now 25 historical teams from all over the world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The gods and muses must be pleased with our ten years of Poetry March Madness and our first Poetry Baseball season, where poetry is worshiped through time and space in a manner which no one has ever seen.

Fortunately one of the Muses has always been here to help us, Marla Muse.

Marla Muse: They are indeed pleased, Tom!

You have spoken to the other muses who live in other realms, in those shadowy timeless realms where time is one and poetry lights up suns distantly—

Marla Muse: Yes, and they approve! The stars in the heavens love you more than you know… I would rather die than see poetry die.

This baseball season is different. Mysterious and wealthy owners throughout time and space are bidding, some in secret, for players to fill their rosters.

In the Great Emperor League, we have the Broadcasters. Their motto is “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name” and they feature Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Gregory Corso, Anne Sexton, Bobby Burns, Omar Khayyam, Rilke, Coleridge, Leopardi, Anacreon, Sappho, and Ingrid Jonker.  They are rumored to be owned and funded by a business group led by Federico Fellini, and their ballpark is in Rimini, Italy.

These ballclubs are timeless, in every sense of the word (these teams compete, with actual statistics, where chance unfolds out of space, out of time) but real money, blood money, purchases these players.  We know JP Morgan, for instance, wanted Shakespeare and bid heavily to get him.

The Pistols, who play in Berlin, are said to be associated with Eva Braun, but this cannot be confirmed; one older muse claims to have overheard Eva say, “I take care of this. Adolf is too busy talking to bankers and architects. He doesn’t have time for poetry.” But honestly we cannot say who owns the Pistols.

Nahum Tate, owner of the Laureates, for those who do not know, re-wrote a popular King Lear with a happy ending (after Shakespeare’s death when, for a long period, the Bard was out of fashion,) and was chosen as Poet Laureate of England in 1692. 

Dick Wolf produces Law & Order on television, and appears to have a controlling interest in the Laws, playing out of Santa Barbara.  He’s got Aristotle, Lord Bacon, and Horace.

John Rockefeller opened his purse to get Walt Whitman, and he thinks that will be enough to win a championship.  We don’t know.  We do know baseball is all about pitching.  All you need is a few good arms which dominate, defense behind them, and some clubhouse chemistry, and not too many injuries. It’s a crap shoot, in many ways, and this is why Rockefeller grumbled he wasn’t going to waste money on superstars who hit home runs and have a high batting average. He’s probably right.  A team that wins 2-1 is better than a team that wins 7-4, by pure mathematics, even though the former score wins by 1 and the latter by 3 runs. It’s the ratio that counts.  2-1 = 2. 7-4 = 1.7  This simple reason is why defense wins in every sport. Rockefeller is using this formula, and the oil baron was also advised that you can’t buy a pennant—throwing money at sluggers doesn’t do any good; it’s 90% pitching and luck. Just put a a poet with critical depth on the hill and three good versifiers in the infield and sit back.

Some of the rosters might have some question marks, but that’s what happens in a free market.  It’s an historical fact that Longfellow did meet Queen Victoria in person. But no one expected him to play for her!

And W.H. Auden just “wanted to play for Napoleon, I don’t why.”

Marla Muse: I can’t wait for the season to begin!  Spring is in the air! Around Rome, and in those still fairer isles… Let’s forget about plagues and the starvation for awhile. Songs are going to sing.

Here then, are the Teams, their Mottoes, and the preliminary rosters—they are always changing (there’s a big minor leagues!)

~~~~~~

THE GREAT EMPEROR LEAGUE

Federico Fellini, Rimini  The Broadcasters [Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name]
-Mick Jagger, Sappho, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski, Paul Valery, Anne Sexton, Omar Khayyam, Robert Burns, Ben Jonson, Coleridge, Jim Morrison, Edmund Waller, Nabokov, Rilke, Giacomo Leopardi, Anacreon, Ingrid Jonker, Swinburne

Napoleon, Corsica The Codes [Let the more loving one be me]
-W.H. Auden, Homer, Hesiod, Racine, John Peale Bishop, Edmund Wilson, Mina Loy, William Logan, Irving Layton, Villon, Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard, Wole Soyinka, Jules Laforgue, Derek Walcott, Callimachus, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius

King Philip II, Madrid The Crusaders [If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me]
-Saint Ephrem, G.K. Chesterton, Tolkien, Thomas Aquinas, Hilaire Beloc, John Paul II, Saint Theresa of Lisieux, Joyce Kilmer, Saint John of the Cross, Mary Angela Douglas, Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Aeschulus

Charles X, Paris  The Goths [Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith]
-A.W. Schlegel, Baudelaire, Goethe, Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, Madame de Stael, Chateaubriand, Sophocles, George Herbert, Heinrich Heine, Robert Herrick, Clement Marot, Ronsard, Saint-Beuve, Catulus, Thomas Gray, John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Theophile Gautier

Pope Julius II, Rome  The Ceilings [They also serve who only stand and wait]
-Milton, Michelangelo, William Blake, Robert Lowell, Petrarch, G.E. Lessing, John Dryden, Klopstock, GE Horne, Ferdowsi, Ariosto, Luis de Camoens, Swift, Tulsidas, Edmund Spenser, Kwesi Brew, Pindar, Euripides

~~~~~

THE GLORIOUS LEAGUE

Eva Braun, Berlin The Pistols [A life subdued to its instrument]
-Ted Hughes, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis, DH Lawrence, Alistair Crowley, George Santayana, F.T. Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Richard Wagner, Jung

Queen Victoria, London The Carriages [Theirs but to do and die]
-Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett, Robert Browning, Longfellow, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Hazlitt, Paul McCartney, Geoffrey Hill, Henry James, Andrew Marvel, John Suckling, Virginia Woolf, Theocritus

Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence The Banners [The One remains, the many change and pass]
-Percy Shelley, Dante, William Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, DG Rossetti, John Keats, Marlowe, Guido Cavalcanti, Glyn Maxwell, Ben Mazer, Friedrich Schiller, Thomas Moore, Philodemus, Virgil, Stefan George, Boccaccio, Leonardo da Vinci

P.M. Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Devon The Sun [A good indignation brings out all one’s powers]
-Emerson, Horace Walpole, Thomas Carlyle, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley, Matthew Arnold, Sir John Davies, Margaret Fuller, Robert Southey, Marilyn Chin, Joy Harjo, Basil Bunting, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Nahum Tate, Dublin  The Laureates [Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands]
-Ghalib, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Peacock, Leigh Hunt, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Sara Teasdale, Pasternak, Louis Simpson, Dana Gioia, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Aphra Behn, Rod McKuen, JK Rowling

~~~~~

THE SECRET SOCIETY LEAGUE

Harvey Weinstein, Westport CT The Actors [I am no hackney for your rod]
-John Skelton, Langston Hughes, Henry Ward Beecher, Chaucer, Amiri Baraka, Lord Byron, Hafiz, Thomas Nashe, Marilyn Hacker, Petronius, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jim Carroll, Lucille Clifton, Etheridge Knight, Audre Lorde, Jimmy Page, Andre Gide

David Lynch, Alexandria VA  The Strangers [So still is day, it seems like night profound]
-Jones Very, Alexander Pope, William Burroughs, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Robert Graves, Laura Riding, Weldon Kees, Berryman, Mary Shelley, Rabelais, Charles Simic, Eric Satie, Labid, Roethke, Camille Paglia, HP Lovecraft, Nietzsche, Samuel Beckett

P.T. Barnum, Fairfield CT  The Animals [Majesty and love are incompatible]
-Ovid, Gerald Stern, Robinson Jeffers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Seamus Heaney, Jack Spicer, Kay Ryan, Leslie Scalapino, Mary Oliver, W S Merwin, Melville, Camille Saint Saens, Edward Lear, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gerard de Nerval, Robert Bly

J.P. Morgan, Madison Avenue  The War [The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them]
-Shakespeare, Louis Untermeyer, Apollinaire, T.E. Hulme, Richard Aldington, Rupert Brooke, Sir Walter Scott, Philip Sidney, James Dickey, Harry Crosby, Keith Douglas, Wilfred Owen, Howard Nemerov, Stephen Crane, Erich Remarque, Alan Seeger

Ben Franklin  Philadelphia  The Secrets [We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune]
-Paul Simon, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edgar Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, F. Scott Key, Cole Porter, Plato, Hawthorne, Pushkin, Walter Raleigh, Moliere, William Cullen Bryant, Amy Lowell, Emma Lazarus, Carl Sandburg, Pete Seeger, Natasha Trethewey, Amelia Welby, Woody Guthrie, JD Salinger, John Prine, Kanye West, Stephen Cole, Bob Tonucci

~~~~~

THE PEOPLE’S LEAGUE

Sajyajit Ray, Calcutta The Cobras [Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me?]
-Tagore, Allen Ginsberg, Jeet Thayil, Rupi Kaur, Anand Thakore, Dhoomil, G.M. Muktibodh, Rumi, A.K. Ramanujan, Samar Sen, Daipayan Nair, R. Meenakshi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Hermann Hesse, Persius, George Harrison, Adil Jussawalla, Tishani Doshi, Sushmita Gupta, Vikram Seth

Kurosawa,  Tokyo  The Mist [In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto]
-Basho, Hilda Doolittle, Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, D.T. Suzuki, Yone Noguchi, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Kobayashi Issa, Lady Izumi Shikibu, Cid Corman, Sadakichi Hartmann, Heraclitus, Richard Brautigan

Chairman Mao, Beijing  The Waves [Death gives separation repose. Without death, grief only sharpens]
-Tu Fu, Lucretius, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Rousseau, Guy Burgess, Amiri Baraka, Brecht, Neruda, Li Po, Li He, Bai Juyi, Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Ho Chi-Fang, Yen Chen, Billie Holiday, Khomieni, Lu Ji , Wang Wei, Lao Tzu, Gary B. Fitzgerald, Wendell Berry

Dick Wolf, Santa Barbara  The Laws [In poetry everything is clear and definite]
-Ajip Rosidi, Aristotle, John Donne, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Donald Justice, Anna Akhmatova, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Campion, Frederick Seidel, Antonio Machado, Mark Van Doren, David Lehman, Lord Bacon, Martial, ML Rosenthal, Horace, Gottfried Burger, Yvor Winters

Merv Griffin, Los Angeles  The Gamers  [He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife]
-Lewis Carroll, James Tate, E.E. Cummings, Tony Hoagland, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins, Eugene Field, W.S. Gilbert, Thomas Hood, Noel Coward, X.J. Kennedy, John Betjeman, Wendy Cope, Tristan Tzara, Heather McHugh, Charles Bernstein, Jack Spicer, James Whitcomb Riley, Joe Green, Menander, Morgenstern

~~~~~

THE MODERN LEAGUE

Pamela Harriman, Arden NY The Dreamers [not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me]
-Sharon Olds, Edna Millay, George Dillon, Floyd Dell, Dorothy Parker, Stanley Burnshaw, Richard Lovelace, Stevie Smith, Louis MacNeice, Louise Bogan, Louise Gluck, Jack Gilbert, Marge Piercy, Carolyn Forche, Muriel Rukeyser, Jean Valentine, May Swenson, Propertius, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir

Andy Warhol, East 47th St The Printers [the eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up.]
-John Updike, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, James Merrill, Hart Crane, Lorca, Thom Gunn, Stephen Burt, Frank Bidart, Mark Rothko, Marjorie Perloff, John Quinn, Duchamp, Aristophanes, Christopher Isherwood, Andre Breton, Lou Reed, John Cage

John D. Rockefeller, Chicago The Buyers [Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?]
-Walt Whitman, Alcaeus, Edgar Lee Masters, Kenneth Rexroth, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Helen Vendler, Jorie Graham, Franz Wright, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Paul Engle, William Alexander Percy, Richard Hugo, Carl Philips, Harriet Monroe, Duke Ellington, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Sigmund Freud

A. C. Barnes, Philadelphia  The Crash [But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us]
-Allen Tate, John Gould Fletcher, John Crowe Ransom, John Dewey, Cleanth Brooks, Donald Davidson, Merrill Moore, Walter Pater, Wittgenstein, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Archilochus, Anne Waldman, Stanley Kunitz, Jackson Pollock, WC Williams, Luigi Russolo, Stephen Spender, Richard Howard

Steven Spielberg, Phoenix AZ  The Universe [I know why the caged bird sings]
-Maya Angelou, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bob Dylan, Margaret Atwood, Paul Celan, Czeslaw Milosz, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, Anthony Hecht, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Larry Levis, Claudia Rankine, Harold Bloom, Alice Walker, James Wright, Juvenal, Chuck Berry, Stephen King

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ballpark Road Trips in Review: 2018 - Ben's Biz Blog

 

 

FIRST ROUND ACTION CONCLUDES IN THE MODERN BRACKET

Image result for alan seeger

Alan Seeger—yes, he is related to the folk singer Pete Seeger—certainly has a sublime entry:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

World War One was such a horrible meat grinder, it’s a miracle any beautiful poetry on that war was possible, but poets will find a way.  The theme is similar to ‘all quiet on the western front.’  I will die when it’s “quiet.”  I will die when it’s “Spring.”

The Moderns often point to the Great War as the end of “pretty, Victorian poetry;” it’s not that poems like Seeger’s on WW I were not beautiful, were not popular, were not moving—it’s just that the horror of war “outside” the text began to condemn it (pretty poetry) as naive.  The air-tight jar of art-for-art’s sake was broken by an event too vast and grisly for that jar to survive.

The problem is, however, that when you try and ‘fit’ poetry to the gruesome stupidity of life, it’s no longer poetry.  So now, you’ve not only done a stupid thing by having World War One, you’ve gone and ruined poetry, too.

And this is not to say that all poetry should be flowery and Victorian and how dare you introduce more realistic views—no.  The point is, poetry should never be defined by “what are we going to do about World War One?”  In any way, ever. Because—the dyer’s hand. If you write poetry about iconic stupidity, it will be stupid. After you go to the ironic well of ‘I will die when it’s quiet/spring’ one too many times, you may have to start writing ‘his face was blown off’ while trying to be poetic, and that will take too much effort, or make one indulge too much in brutality for its own sake.  And if you wish to address the stupidity of World War One in a truly serious or scientific way, you probably won’t be using poems.

Seeger’s opponent is Richard Eberhart and his poem, “The Groundhog:”

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close his maggots’ might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left; and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained.
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.

It is the scene-shifting of this poem which is so moving. Poems exist in time, if we let them.  There are poems which exist in a picture.  But some poems exist only as they unfold.  Poets often miss this principle: a poem is a continual arriving and leaving, and the rare, poignant ones ride the temporal itself. One could state the theme of decay in a much shorter poem, but a short poem would not get the decay in life and memory as Eberhart here so beautifully unwinds it.

Alan Seeger, brave man!  Fare thee well!

Eberhart advances.

~~~~~~~~

The arena can hardly contain the crowd for this one: T.S. Eliot versus Dylan Thomas!

The sly, slim, astute Eliot, unruffled as a cat on a stuffed chair. The bubbling, passionate, beer-soaked Thomas.

Already a few brawls outside the stadium.

The languorous sounds of “Prufrock” as it reaches its mesmerizing end:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

The crowd is lulled into an ecstatic trance, but Dylan Thomas is about to change all that…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

One of the great drawbacks of homosexuality is that so many great poems are now ruined, because the word “gay” is used in the old sense.

Some scholars believe T.S. Eliot was gay.

Still other scholars think we’re all gay. Let’s just defer to them right now, shall we?

Marla Muse: Tom!  What are you babbling about?

Nothing, Marla, just having fun.  But I think I’ve come down with a cold.

Marla Muse: You might want to take care of that cold. I hear people who are 99 years old and have diabetes and asthma are dying in Italy.

Good God, Marla, now what are you babbling about?

“Parody! Parody!” In the vestibules the Dylan Thomas fans are making a fuss that “Prufrock” is nothing but a school boy parody.

Maybe we should leave, Marla.  It seems to be getting out of control down there.

Marla: Rage, indeed. Perhaps we should leave. Was that a beer bottle which just flew by?

Marla, follow me.

~~~~~~~~

The final First Round Scarriet March Madness Sublime contest in the Modern Bracket is two 20th century poets: W.H. Auden and Edna St. Vincent Millay. 

Marla Muse: Both great poets. And both used rhyme. You know, as time rides farther and farther away from the 20th century, and we look back, it will begin to appear, as we read the poems most memorable, that free verse was no factor in modern poetry at all!

History is funny, isn’t it?

Marla Muse: Not only history, but time!

Is time itself the funny part?  Perhaps it is…

Marla Muse: After many a summer dies the swan.

Tennyson.

Marla Muse: No, that’s mine.  The muses own all of it.

Of course.

Here is the first half of Auden’s energetic march, “As I Walked Out One Evening:”

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
.
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
.
But all the clocks in the city
Begin to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
Tomorrow or today.
.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
.
‘O plunge your hands in water
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A land to the land of the dead.

“And the seven songs go squawking/like geese about the sky.”  I could recite that line forever!

Look at the Auden fans! Doing a “plunge them in up to the wrist” dance!  What a cavorting mob!

Marla Muse: There’s quite a gathering of Edna fans, too. Millay is heavenly.

Here she comes now with one of her best known sonnets.

Her fans are strewing petals everywhere about her!

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
.
.
The Milly fans are singing, over various strumming chords, “no more,” over and over again, hypnotically, in a simple major key, as they wind about, in a great procession, out of the arena towards the river.
.
The Auden followers are bellowing Auden’s ballad in E minor. A few things are being broken.
.
And so ends the First Round play in the Modern Bracket.
.
Lights, lights, everywhere, as night falls, and music echoes behind the trees.

 

 

 

 

“SUBLIME” MADNESS CONTINUES—THE MODERN BRACKET

Image result for turner painting

HERE’S THE MODERN LINEUP

We’ve already seen the magnificent Classical and the Romantic Brackets, but some say this is the most profound sixteen they’ve ever seen!

Despite the corona virus emergency, Scarriet Sublime March Madness will continue as planned, with full audiences in the stands!

Check these out!

Can writing get more sublime than this?

But let’s say a few words before these masterpieces (excerpts, mostly) are perused, and bets are placed.

It seems we need to recognize two types of literary “sublime.”

The first is when profound ideas enforce themselves into our intellect, so that we began to think of the world in a new way.

The second is purely beautiful, when our brains fall asleep, and we experience the sublime with either our emotions, or with the silent, inarticulate parts of our souls.

We might assume only when the sublime is both types of the sublime at once, then, and only then, can we be absolutely blown away.  But if the intellect is ambushed, or the emotions are vanquished, either type of the sublime conquers us absolutely nonetheless.

The modern bracket is less intellectual than the classical and the romantic brackets.  By the year 1900, all the thinking was done, and philosophy gave way to pure awe, and pure feeling.  This is what the fans are buzzing about, as they gather now, in the twilight, outside the temples and the stadiums, as a sea breeze hits the land, blowing in from the underside of the dying sun, throwing its light into the waves.

1) Joseph Conrad (children of the sea)

The sunshine of heaven fell like a gift of grace on the mud of the earth, on the remembering and mute stones, on greed, selfishness; on the anxious faces of forgetful men. And to the right of the dark group the stained front of the Mint, cleansed by the flood of light, stood out for a moment dazzling and white like a marble palace in a fairy tale. The crew of the Narcissus drifted out of sight.

I never saw them again. The sea took some, the steamers took others, the graveyards of the earth will account for the rest. Singleton has no doubt taken with him the long record of his faithful work into the peaceful depths of an hospitable sea. And Donkin, who never did a decent day’s work in his life, no doubt earns his living by discoursing with filthy eloquence upon the right of labour to live. So be it! Let the earth and the sea each have its own.

A gone shipmate, like any other man, is gone for ever; and I never met one of them again. But at times the spring-flood of memory sets with force up the dark River of the Nine Bends. Then on the waters of the forlorn stream drifts a ship—a shadowy ship manned by a crew of Shades. They pass and make a sign, in a shadowy hail. Haven’t we, together and upon the immortal sea, wrung out a meaning from our sinful lives? Good-bye, brothers! You were a good crowd. As good a crowd as ever fisted with wild cries the beating canvas of a heavy foresail; or tossing aloft, invisible in the night, gave back yell for yell to a westerly gale.

2) Erich Remarque (all quiet on the western front)

He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

3) D.H. Lawrence (ship of death)

I
Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.
.
The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
.
And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one’s own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self.
.
II
.
Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
O build your ship of death, for you will need it.
.
The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.
.
And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
Ah! can’t you smell it?
.
And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
that blows upon it through the orifices.
.
IX
.
And yet out of eternity a thread
separates itself on the blackness,
a horizontal thread
that fumes a little with pallor upon the dark.
.
Is it illusion? or does the pallor fume
A little higher?
Ah wait, wait, for there’s the dawn,
the cruel dawn of coming back to life
out of oblivion.
.
Wait, wait, the little ship
drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey
of a flood-dawn.
.
Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.
.
A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.
.
X
.
The flood subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell
emerges strange and lovely.
And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
on the pink flood,
and the frail soul steps out, into the house again
filling the heart with peace.
.
Swings the heart renewed with peace
even of oblivion.
.
Oh build your ship of death, oh build it!
for you will need it.
For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.
.
4) Virginia Woolf (a room of one’s own)

It is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex.

It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly, as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

If one is a man, still the woman part of the brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous.

No age can ever have been as stridently sex-conscious as our own. The Suffrage campaign was no doubt to blame. It must have roused in men an extraordinary desire for self-assertion; it must have made them lay an emphasis upon their own sex and its characteristics which they would not have troubled to think about had they not been challenged.

The blame for all this rests no more upon one sex than upon the other. All seducers and reformers are responsible. All who have brought about a state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me, when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy age, when the writer used both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare, then, for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so was Keats and Coleridge. Shelley was perhaps sexless. Milton and Ben Johnson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and Tolstoy.

The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn. The writer, once his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its nuptials in darkness. He must not look or question what is being done. Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans float calmly down the river. And I saw again the current which took the boat and the undergraduate and the dead leaves; and the taxi took the man and the woman who came together across the street, and the current swept them away, as I heard far off the roar of London’s traffic, into that tremendous stream.

5) F. Scott Fitzgerald (great gatsby)

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an æsthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

 

6) Alan Seeger (i have a rendezvous with death)

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

 

7) T.S. Eliot (love song of j. alfred prufrock)

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
.
Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
.
8) W.H. Auden (as i walked out one evening)
.
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
.
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
.
But all the clocks in the city
Begin to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
Tomorrow or today.
.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
.
‘O plunge your hands in water
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A land to the land of the dead.
.
9) Edna St Vincent Millay (what lips my lips have kissed)
.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
.
10) Dylan Thomas (do not go gentle)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

11) Richard Eberhart (the groundhog)

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close his maggots’ might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left; and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained.
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.
.
12) Stephen Spender (the truly great)
.
I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
.
What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.
.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.
.
13) Edmund Wilson (memoirs of hecate country)
.
“Come outside a minute,” I said, when everybody was clapping and cheering. “I want to tell you something.” She went with me in silence—I was satisfied and proud, and I also felt really excited. There would be people in the courtyard, I knew, so I took her to the terrace at the side of the house. I kissed her, holding her tight against me, one arm about her naked shoulders, the other under her soft bare armpit just where the breast begins; and she seemed to me voracious and hot as I had never known her before. I said nothing, for the kiss said all.  But we couldn’t go on, so at last i stopped and looked away to distract myself. There above us in the sky where it was always summer hung the dust of the richly-sprinkled stars that gave the illusion out here of being both closer-to and more tinselly than they ever did in the East—the stars of the blissful Pacific that had the look of festive decorations for people to be gay or to make love by, yet with which I had never been able to feel myself in any vital relation as I did with the remote ones at home. I spoke of this and when I looked back at her face, I saw that she was smiling and gazing up with her lips parted in such a way as to show great long bare-gummed teeth that stuck out and yet curved back like tushes and that seemed almost too large to be contained in her mouth. She looked like a dog panting when you take it out for a drive, and for a moment I was sharply repelled; but then, saying, ‘Yes, I see what you mean,’ she closed her lips, and the teeth disappeared. I saw only her wide wet mouth, and I pounded kisses against it with summoned determined passion, tasting her perfume and her flesh. It was precisely those long teeth, I thought, that gave her large mouth its peculiar attractiveness: it might have been unpleasant, but wasn’t.
.
14) James Thurber (memorial)

Like the great Gammeyer of Tarkington’s Gentle Julia, the poodle I knew seemed sometimes about to bridge the mysterious and conceivably narrow gap that separates instinct from reason. She could take part in your gaiety and your sorrow; she trembled to your uncertainties and lifted her head at your assurances. There were times when she seemed to come close to a pitying comprehension of the whole troubled scene and what lies ticking behind it. If poodles, who walk so easily upon their hind legs, ever do learn the little tricks of speech and reason, I should not be surprised if they made a better job of it than Man, who would seem to be slowly slipping back to all fours, in spite of Van Wyck Brooks and Lewis Mumford and Robert Frost.

The poodle kept her sight, her hearing, and her figure up to her quiet and dignified end. She knew that the Hand was upon her and she accepted it with a grave and unapprehensive resignation. This, her dark intelligent eyes seemed to be trying to tell me, is simply the closing of full circle, this is the flower that grows out of Beginning; this—not to make it too hard for you, friend—is as natural as eating the raspberries and raising the puppies and riding into the rain.

15) Hart Crane (the bridge)

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
.
And Thee, across the harbor, silver paced
As though the sun took step of thee yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!
.
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud flown derricks turn …
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
.
And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon … Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.
.
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,
.
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path—condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

16) Philip Roth (goodbye, columbus)

We had to take about two too many steps to keep the approach from being awkward, but we pursued the impulse and kissed. I felt her hand on the back of my neck and so I tugged her towards me, too violently perhaps, and slid my own hands across the side of her body and around to her back. I felt the wet spots on her shoulder blades, and beneath them, I’m sure of it, a faint fluttering, as though something stirred so deep in her breasts, so far back, it could make itself felt through her shirt. It was like the fluttering of wings, tiny wings no bigger than her breasts. The smallness of the wings did not bother me—it would not take an eagle to carry me up those lousy 180 feet that make summer nights so much cooler in Short Hills than they are in Newark.

 

 

 

OH NO, PLEASE HELP US! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED

angry-mob

1 Anders Carlson-Wee: Brilliant, empathic poem, “How-To,” published in The Nation—then a mob ends his career.

2 Stephanie Burt: Harvard professor and Nation poetry editor publishes Carlson-Wee—caves to the mob.

3 Carmen Giminez-Smith: Nation co-editor, with Burt, apologizes for “disparaging and ableist language” giving “offense,” “harm,” and “pain” to “several communities.”

4 Grace Schulman: Former Nation poetry editor: “never once did we apologize for publishing a poem.”

5 Patricia Smith: Runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2018, a slam poet champion, leads Twitter outrage which greets Carlson-Wee’s Nation poem.

6 Ben Mazer: Selected Poems out, discovering unpublished Delmore Schwartz material for Library of America.

7 Rupi Kaur: Milk and Honey, her debut self-published book of viral Instagram ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ verse, has put a young woman from Toronto on top of the poetry popularity heap.

8 Tyler Knott Gregson: NY Times pointed out this Instagram poet’s first collection of poetry was a national bestseller.

9 Christopher Poindexter: This Instagram poet has been compared to Shakespeare by Huffpost. (He’s nothing like Shakespeare.)

10 Nikita Gill: Probably the best of the feminist Instagram poets.

11 Yrsa Daley-Ward: Her Instapoetry memoir, The Terrible, was praised by Katy Waldman in the New Yorker.

12 Marilyn Chin: Her New and Selected (Norton) this October contains her famous poem, “How I Got That Name.”

13 Frank Bidart: Awarded 2018 Pulitzer for his Collected Poems.

14 William Logan: New prose book: Dickinson’s Nerves, Frost’s Woods. New book of poems, Rift of Light, proves again his formal verse is perhaps the best poetry published today.

15 Kevin Young: New New Yorker poetry editor.

16 Evie Shockley: Was on short list for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

17 David Lehman: Series editor for Best American Poetry since 1988—30 years.

18 Linda Ashok: Poet (Whorelight), songwriter (“Beautiful Scar”) and champion of Indian poetry in English.

19 Derrick Michael Hudson: Who still remembers this “Chinese” BAP poet?

20. Dana Gioia: Guest editor of Lehman’s Best American Poetry 2018.

21 Akhil Katyal: “Is Mumbai still standing by the sea?”

22 Urvashi Bahuguna: “Girl kisses/some other boy. Girl wishes/It was Boy.”

23 Jeet Thayil: “you don’t want to hear her say,/Why, why did you not look after me?”

24 Sridala Swami: Jorge Louis Borges of English Indian poetry.

25 Adil Jussawalla: Born in Mumbai in 1940, another Anglo-Indian poet ignored in the U.S.

26 Rochelle D’Silva:  Indian slam poet who writes in English.

27 Billy Collins: Pajama and Slippers school of poetry. And nothing wrong with that at all.

28 W.S. Merwin: One of the few living major poets born in the 20s (goodbye Ashbery, Hall).

29 Valerie Macon: Quickly relieved of her NC poet laureate duties because of her lack of creds.

30 Mary Angela Douglas: a magical bygone spirit who sweetly found her way onto the Internet.

31 Stephen Cole: Who is this wonderful, prolific lyric poet? The daily Facebook fix.

32 Sophia Naz: “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

33 Rochelle Potkar: “But can I run away from the one cell that is the whole Self?”

34 Helen Vendler: No one finally cares what non-poets say about poetry.

35 Huzaifa Pandit: “Bear the drought of good poems a little longer”

36 N Ravi Shankar: “a toy train in a full moon night”

37 Sharon Olds: Like Edna Millay, a somewhat famous outsider, better than the men.

38 Nabina Das: “the familiar ant crawling up”

39 Kaveh Akbar: “the same paradise/where dead lab rats go.”

40 Terrance Hayes: “I love poems more than/money and pussy.”

41 Dan Sociu: Plain-spoken, rapturous voice of Romania

42 Glyn Maxwell: Editor of Derek Walcott’s poems— The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

43 Arjun Rajendran:  Indian poet in English who writes sassy, seductive poems.

44 A.E. Stallings: With Logan, and a few others, the Formalist torch.

45 Patricia Lockwood: Subsiding from viral into respectability.

46 Marjorie Perloff: An old-fashioned, shaming of NYU professor Avital Ronell in the Nimrod Reitman case.

47 Daipayan Nair: Great love and sex poet of India

48 Shohreh Laici: Proud young voice of restless, poetic Iran

49 Smita Sahay: “You flowed down the blue bus/into a brown puddle/below the yellow lamp post/and hung there”

50 Mary Oliver: An early fan of Edna St. Vincent Millay, she assisted Edna’s sister, Norma, in assembling the great poet’s work.

51 Natasha Trethewey: Former U.S. laureate, her New and Selected favored to win National Book Award this year.

52 Anand Thakore: “a single tusk/White as a quarter-moon in mid-July,/Before the coming of a cloud.”

53 Carl Dennis: Author of the poem, “The God Who Loves You.”

54 Tony Hoagland: Today’s Robert Bly.

55 Meera Nair: “I live in a house/Someone else has loved in”

56 Fanny Howe: “Eons of lily-building/emerged in the one flower.”

57 Rita Dove: Won Pulitzer in 1987. Her The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011) was panned by Vendler and Perloff.

58 Diana Khoi Nguyen: Poet and multimedia artist studying for a PhD in Creative Writing.

59 Matthew Zapruder: Poetry editor of the New York Times magazine since 2016.

60 Jenny Xie: “I pull apart the evening with a fork.”

61 Mary Jo Bang: Chair of the National Book Award judges.

62 Jim Behrle: Hates David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series and “rhyme schemes.”

63 Semeen Ali: “diverting your attention/for a minute/contains my life/my undisclosed life”

64 George Bilgere: Ohio’s slightly more sophisticated Billy Collins.

65 Aishwarya Iyer: “When rain goes where will you find/The breath lost to the coming of love?”

66 Sukrita Kumar: “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

67 Sushmita Gupta: “So detached, so solid, so just, so pure. A glory unbeholden, never seen or met before.”

68 Merryn Juliette: “before your body knows the earth”

69 John Cooper Clarke: “The fucking clocks are fucking wrong/The fucking days are fucking long”

70 Justin Phillip Reed: His book (2018) is Indecency.

71 Cathy Park Hong: Her 2014 essay, “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde,” rules our era. The avant-garde is no longer automatically cool.

72 Carolyn Forche:  “No one finds/ you no one ever finds you.”

73 Zachary Bos: “The sun like a boat drowns.”

74 Bob Dylan: “You could have done better but I don’t mind”

75 Kanye West: The musical guest when SNL open its 44th season September 29th

76 Raquel Salas Rivera: “i shall invoke the shell petrified by shadows”

77 Jennifer Reeser: Indigenous, her new collection, will be available soon.

78 Forrest Gander: Be With from New Directions is his latest book.

79 Arun Sagar: “through glass and rain./Each way out/is worthy, each way leads/to clarity and mist,/and music.”

80 Joanna Valente: “Master said I am too anti-social.”

81 Richard Howard: Like Merwin, an American treasure, born in the 1920s.

82 J.Michael Martinez: Museum of the Americas on 2018 National Book Award longlist.

83 Amber Tamblyn: The actress/poet’s dad does the amazing flips in the movie West Side Story.

84 Paul Rowe: Stunning translation of Cesario Verde’s “O Sentimento dum Ocidental.”

85 Jill Bialosky: Norton editor caught plagiarizing by William Logan

86 Robert Pinsky: Editor of the 25 year anniversary edition of Best American Poetry in 2013.

87 Philip Nikolayev: Poet, linguist, philosopher: One Great Line theory of poetry is recent.

88 Ada Limón: The poet lives in New York, California, and Kentucky.

89 Rae Armantrout: Her poems examine, in her words, “a lot of largely unexamined baggage.”

90 Alex Dimitrov: “I want even the bad things to do over.”

91 Sam Sax: “Prayer for the Mutilated World” in September Poetry.

92 Danielle Georges: “You should be called beacon. You should be called flame.”

93 Stephen Sturgeon: “These errors are correct.”

94 Hieu Minh Nguyen: “Maybe he meant the city beyond the window.”

95 Richard Blanco: presidents, presidents, presidents.

96 Kent Johnson: His magazine Dispatches from the Poetry Wars continues the fight against poetry as commodity/career choice.

97 Parish Tiwari: “between falling rain/and loneliness…/the song/that once was ours”

98 Eliana Vanessa: Rrrrr. Lyric internet poet of the Tooth, Death, Love, Sex and Claw school.

99 Rachel Custer: Best known poem is “How I Am Like Donald Trump”

100 Jos Charles: “wen abeyance/accidentlie”

 

 

 

MARCH MADNESS 2018 —SENTIMENTAL AND WORTHY

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This year’s Scarriet 2018 March Madness Tournament is a contest between great sentimental poems.

We use Sentimental Poems because sentimentality in the United States has long been seen as a great fault in poetry.

It is necessary we bring attention to a crucial fact which is so obvious many overlook it: In the last 100 years, it is considered a virtue for the poet to avoid sentimentality.

But poetry does not belong to the factual.

Ever since Socrates pointed out that Homer wasn’t trustworthy when it came to chariots, law, war, or government, the fact that poetry is not factual has been understood and accepted.

As science grew in stature, it was only natural that Plato was seen as more and more correct—science, the eyes and ears of discovery, made the imagination of lyric song seem feeble by comparison.  Entertainment, Plato feared, could take the place of truth—and destroy society, by making it tyrannical, complacent, sensual, and blind.

Plato’s notion, to put it simply, triumphed.

Homer was no longer considered a text book for knowledge.

Poetry was just poetry.

Religion and science—one, an imaginative display of morals, the other, an imaginative display of reason, became the twin replacements of poetry for all mankind.

Poetry still mattered, but it belonged to entertainment and song, the frivolous, the sentimental—as much as these matter, and they do.  The sentimental was not considered a bad thing, but it was never confused with science. Nor was poetry confused with religion. Religion, with its unchanging sacred texts, was society’s moral guide; a poem springs up suddenly in a person’s mind, a fanciful thing, a piece of religion for the moment—not a bad thing, necessarily, but ranked below science and religion.

Poetry sat on the sidelines for two thousand years.  Homer made it glorious, Plato killed it, and then Science and Religion, for a couple of millennia, were Homer’s two important substitutes.

For two thousand years poetry was sentimental, not factual.

Religion bleeds into poetry (quite naturally) —Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton—and in the rival arts, painting, and music—helps religiosity (high sentiment) to thrive and not be overthrown by science (fact).

Music and painting were especially glorious—we use the word without irony—(and religious) during the Renaissance, becoming almost scientific; musicians like Beethoven proved music is more than entertainment—it enriches the soul as much as religion.  Plato would certainly have approved of Bach and Beethoven, if not Goya and Shelley.

Poetry crept back into good standing (since being dethroned by Plato) through religion’s back door—as religion—especially during the Enlightenment and the 19th century—became more and more disgraced by science.

Modernism changed all that.

In the beginning of the 20th century, poetry (together with painting and music) decided it didn’t need religion or science.

Perspective (the mathematics of seeing), which developed in Renaissance painting, is science.

Cubism, Collage, (2-dimensional fragments) and Abstract painting’s color-mixing do not constitute scientific advancement.

Speech and versification enhance each other in poets like Pope and Byron—this has a certain scientific validity—poetry dribbling off into awkward prose, as it pretends to “paint” an “image,” does not.

Verse exists as written music.   Verse, like music, is a system of notation.  Beethoven’s notes do not float around experimentally on the page—Beethoven’s genius exists both in the notation, and in what the notation projects, with the sound of musical instruments. Beethoven’s genius also lies largely in the realm of the sentimental. Which is not a bad thing at all. Sentimentality occupies the battle-ground middle between religion and science—the genius of the modern is found more in artists like Beethoven and Byron, than in the more self-conscious “modernist revolution” of the 20th century—which was largely a step backwards for art and poetry, as talkers like Ezra Pound and John Dewey gained ascendancy.

Here’s an example of the pseudo-science which infested 20th century Modernism: Charles Olson’s idea that poetry is expressed as “breath,” and can be notated as such, on the page.  Yes, people breathe as they read verse, but “the breath” has nothing to do with verse in any measurable way.  A sigh is dramatic, sure. But a sigh isn’t scientific. Yet no one laughed at Olson’s idea. Modernists took it seriously.

And here in 2018, in the wake of Modernism with its sharp-pointed, experimental, unscientific irreverence, poets continue since 1900 to frown on anything sentimental, associating it with flowery, Victorian verse—when the sentimental belongs to the genius of great poetry.

Poetry is sentimental.

Bad poetry is sentimental only because all poetry is sentimental.

The damaging mistake Modernism made, dumping anything pre-1900, in its pursuit of the non-existent “new” (never really described or defined) was the insistence that sentimentalism was bad.

It was a logical mistake, as we have just shown: all poetry (since Socrates knocked off Homer) is sentimental, not factual; Modernism’s childish, fake-science, tantrum against the sentimental was a gambit against religion, which was already collapsing before the advent of science.

Modernism did not embody scientific glory—unless skyscrapers as architecture belong to science.

The 20th century engineers and physicists (far closer to Leonardo da Vinci than William Carlos Williams) were scientific; religion lived on in the lives of the poor, even as Nietzsche-inspired, 20th century professors said God was dead; and meanwhile the Modern poets dug themselves into a hole—rejecting religion, while proudly beating their chests (Modernism’s crackpot identity was male) before the idol of pseudo-science. Modern poetry fell into oblivion, where it still exists today—secular, unscientific, unsentimental, unmusical, without a public, or an identity.

Sentimental poetry did live on throughout the 20th century—poetry is sentimental, after all.  It continued to thrive, in popular music, but as poetry, it mostly thrived beneath the Modernist headlines.

To highlight this argument, Scarriet’s 2018 March Madness Tournament will feature great sentimental poetry.

Before we start, we’d like to define the issue in more detail.

We do not assert that mawkish, simplistic, hearts-and-flowers, unicorns-and-rainbows, poetry is good.

But tedious, pedantic, dry, prosaic poetry is not good, either.

We simply maintain that all poetry, and the very best poetry, is sentimental, rather than factual—despite what Modernist scholars might say.

It is necessary to point out that verse is not, and cannot, as verse, be somehow less than prose, for verse cannot be anything but prose—with the addition of music.

Verse, not prose, has the unique categorical identity which meets the scientific standard of a recognizable art, because verse is prose-plus-one.  Verse is prose and more.  Here is the simple, scientific fact of verse as an identifying category, which satisfies the minimal material requirements of the category, poetry.

The objection can be raised that the following two things exist

1. prose and

2. prose which has a poetic quality, but is not verse

and therefore, poetry can exist without verse.

But to say that prose can be poetic while still being prose, is really to say nothing at all; for if we put an example of prose next to prose-which-is-poetic, it only proves that some prose writing samples are more beautiful than other prose writing samples.

This still does not change this fact: Verse is prose-plus-one.  Prose can be enchanting for various reasons; it can have a greater interest, for example, if it touches on topics interesting to us—but the topic is interesting, not the prose; the content of prose can have all sorts of effects on us—secondly, and more important, prose can certainly appeal for all sorts of sensual reasons, in terms of painting and rhythm and sentiment, and this is why we enjoy short stories and novels. But again, verse is all of this and more; verse is, by definition, prose-plus-one.

To repeat: Verse is more than prose. Prose is not more than verse.

What do we mean, exactly, by sentimental?  Isn’t there excellent verse which is not sentimental at all?  No, not really, if we simply define sentimental as the opposite of factual.

We might be confused here, because a fact can be sentimental; a simple object, for instance, from our past, which has associations for us alone—there it is, a souvenir, a fact which can move us to tears.

Just as verse is prose-and-more, the sentimental is fact-and-more.  Poetry adds sentiment to the fact.

Here are two examples of good poems, and because they are poems, they are sentimental; they are not sentimental because they are good, or good because they are sentimental.  The sentimental is a given for the poem. And because facts come first, and sentiment is added, poems use facts, even though poems are not factual.

Think of Byron’s famous lyric, “We Shall Go No More A Roving.”  The sentiment is right there in the title. “No more!” Something we did together which was pleasantly thrilling will never happen again.  

If this Byron lyric not sentimental, nothing is.   But we can state its theme in prose.  The sentimentality can be glimpsed in the prose, in the preface, in the idea.  The verse completes what the prose has started.

Facts, and this should not be surprising, do a lot of the work in sentimental poetry.  One of the things which makes Byron’s gushing lyric gloriously sentimental, for instance, is the fact that it is not just I who shall “go no more a roving,” but we shall “go no more a roving.” This is a fact, and the fact contributes to the sentimentality; or, it might be argued, the sentimentality contributes to the fact.

Carl Sandburg, born in 1878, got his first break in 1914 when his poems were accepted by Poetry, the little Modernist magazine from Chicago—where Sandburg was raised. Sandburg was initially famous for his “hog butcher for the world” poem about Chicago, but the Modernists (including the academically influential New Critics) withdrew their support as Sandburg gained real fame as a populist, sentimental poet. Sandburg even became a folk singer; his poem “Cool Tombs” was published in 1918, and you can hear Sandburg reading this masterpiece of sentimentality on YouTube—and you can hear Sandburg singing folk songs on YouTube, as well.  What is sentimental about a “cool tomb,” exactly?  Is it the sound-echo of “cool” and “tomb?” The sentimental in poetry proves the sentimental is not always a simple formula.

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” might be preferred by Moderns, because on the face of it, this poem doesn’t seem very sentimental at all.  Shelley’s poem is factual: a traveler sees a ruin. Shelley describes the facts as they are—here’s what the traveler sees.  But upon reflection, one recognizes how powerful the sentiment of the poem is—a great thing existed, and is now gone.  And yet, what is gone was evil, and the poem mocks its loss, and the final image of the poem is simply and factually, “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

However, and we don’t need to push this point more than necessary, the whole power of Shelley’s poem is sentimental.  The fact of the statue, half-sunken in the sands of a desert, is just that—a fact.  Were it only this, the fact would not be a poem—all poems, to be poems, must be sentimental; the sentiment is added to the fact.

The poet makes us feel the sentimental significance of the fact; this is what all poems do.

And now to the Tournament…

Our readers will recognize quite a few of the older poems—and why not?  The greatly sentimental is greatly popular.

Most will recognize these poems right up through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

The half-dozen poems composed more recently, in the fourth and final bracket, will not be as familiar, since sentimental examples of verse no longer get the attention they deserve; we bravely furnish them forth to stand with the great sentimental poems of old.

“Sentimental” by Albert Goldbarth is not actually sentimental; the poem is more of a commentary on sentimentality by a pedantic modern, in the middle of the modern, anti-sentimental era.

“A Dog’s Death” may be the most sentimental poem ever written, and it comes to us from a novelist; as respectable poets in the 20th century tended to avoid sentimentality.

The poems by Sushmita Gupta, Mary Angela Douglas, Stephen Cole, and Ben Mazer we have printed below.

The great poems familiar to most people are sentimental—at the dawn of the 20th century, sentimentality was unfortunately condemned.

Here are 64 gloriously sentimental poems.

Old Sentimental Poems—The Bible Bracket

1. Western Wind –Anonymous
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd –Old Testament
3. The Lie –Walter Raleigh
4. Since There’s No Help, Come Let Us Kiss and Part –Michael Drayton
5. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love –Christopher Marlowe
6. That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In My Behold –William Shakespeare
7. Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies –William Shakespeare
8. Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss –Thomas Nashe
9. The Golden Vanity –Anonymous
10. Death, Be Not Proud –John Donne
11. Go and Catch A Falling Star –John Donne
12. Exequy on His Wife –Henry King
13. Love Bade Me Welcome –George Herbert
14. Ask Me No More Where Jove Bestows –Thomas Carew
15. Il Penseroso –John Milton
16. On His Blindness –John Milton

Newer Sentimental Poems—The Blake Bracket

1. Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover? –John Suckling
2. To My Dear and Loving Husband –Anne Bradstreet
3. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars –Richard Lovelace
4. To His Coy Mistress –Andrew Marvel
5. Peace –Henry Vaughan
6. To the Memory of Mr. Oldham –John Dryden
7. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard –Thomas Gray
8. The Sick Rose –William Blake
9. The Little Black Boy –William Blake
10. A Red, Red Rose –Robert Burns
11. The World Is Too Much With Us –William Wordsworth
12. I Wandered Lonely As  A Cloud –William Wordsworth
13. Kubla Khan –Samuel Coleridge
14. I Strove With None –Walter Savage Landor
15. A Visit From St. Nicholas –Clement Clarke Moore
16. When We Two Parted –George Byron

Still Newer Sentimental Poems—The Tennyson Bracket

1. England in 1819 –Percy Shelley
2. To ___ –Percy Shelley
3. Adonais–Percy Shelley
4. I Am –John Clare
5. Thanatopsis –William Cullen Bryant
6. To Autumn –John Keats
7. La Belle Dame sans Merci –John Keats
8. Ode to A Nightingale –John Keats
9. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways –Elizabeth Barrett
10. Paul Revere’s Ride –Henry Longfellow
11. Annabel Lee –Edgar Poe
12. Break Break Break  –Alfred Tennyson
13. Mariana –Alfred Tennyson
14. The Charge of the Light Brigade –Alfred Tennyson
15. My Last Duchess  –Robert Browning
16. The Owl and the Pussy Cat –Edward Lear

Even Newer Sentimental Poems—The Sushmita Bracket

1. O Captain My Captain –Walt Whitman
2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Emily Dickinson
3. The Garden Of Proserpine –Charles Swinburne
4. The Man He Killed –Thomas Hardy
5. When I Was One and Twenty  –A.E. Housman
6. Cynara –Ernest Dowson
7. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  –T.S. Eliot
8. Not Waving But Drowning  –Stevie Smith
9. Nights Without Sleep –Sara Teasdale
10. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed –Edna Millay
11. Sentimental –Albert Goldbarth
12. Dog’s Death –John Updike
13. Utterly In Love –Sushmita Gupta
14. I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas
15. Waiting –Stephen Cole
16. Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

Utterly in Love –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And me,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Waiting –Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

BLACK SUN PRESS AND THE SUPPRESSED, DIONYSIAN SIDE OF MODERNISM

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Millay: Official Modernism hated her: a leftist woman who rhymed and loved.

The revolt of Modernism in poetry against Victorian decorum was complex and extensive, and featured a great deal of sex.

So why is one tale told? The one dominated by the limp, morbid barrenness of sexless, Shelley-hating, T.S. Eliot—and that dry-as-dust, boring, petals-on-a-black-bough-red-wheel-barrow poetry?

Is this why poetry today finds itself in a cul de sac, without a public, in the ruins of a Creative Writing pyramid scheme which has collapsed into piecemeal, self-promoting, illiteracy?

Modernism in the early 20th century was dominated by powerful femme fatale poets—and yet the one female poet included in the accepted Story of Modern Poetry is: the brittle, spinsterish, Marianne Moore!

The revolt against the Victorian—as the Modern Poetry history has been written, codified, and solidified is so…Victorian.

Not that we care about sex, per se; we just find it interesting how things played out.

The Victorians—which the wild, crazy and free Moderns rebelled against (one can include Emily Dickinson as a Victorian, since she wrote and lived in that era, if one wants) —were actually bolder in their poetry than the Modernist rakes and waifs (Eliot, Pound, Moore, Stevens, Williams) who successfully overcame the now largely forgotten Victorian/Romantic influence, and succeeded them. The Victorians are far more enjoyable to read (and they sold much better in their day, too).

Maybe that’s the rub: enjoyable. Sexual excess, or enjoyment of any kind, wasn’t the ticket to become canonized in the schools: the Modernist revolution had to seem safely aesthetic—a topic for professors, in order to gain a footing in academia, since despite their “rebellious nature,” legitimate inclusion was what the successful ones were after. That meant the Moderns had to be writing a “new” kind of poetry. Even though it was boring, and the public didn’t care for it.

The fussy, heavily brocaded, Victorian, Elizabeth Barrett Browning—who wrote some really exceptional poetry which has been ignored and shut away for a century—became a wife in a secret elopement to Italy.

The leader of the Modernist rebellion, T.S. Eliot, a lifelong virgin, shut away his wife forever.

Here we have two stories presented side by side:

Modern poetry is not the story of a door opening; but of a door shutting—on so much of what was pleasing about the 19th century—but also on the alternative, Dionysian, Romantic side of 20th century modernism, too.

Eliot appealed to poets who couldn’t get laid.

True, Edna St. Vincent Millay got old.

And died.

But everyone gets old and dies.

There was a whole Modernist movement which exploded right after World War One, before, during, and after the publication of the morbid “Waste Land,” a different modernist movement which frightened guys like Eliot—led by brash young women and featuring Persian love and Poe and Hindu sex. (One of these types of women even married Tom Eliot, and—are we surprised?—it was a complete disaster.)

Here is the critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Van Doren, writing in Harper’s in the 1930s about America’s great moral transformation during the Age of High Modernism as WW I came to a close; he does not talk about Pound or Eliot. He talks about Edna St. Vincent Millay:

At home the old-fashioned family had broken up. The young could get into automobiles and almost at once be miles away. They could go to the movies and at once be worlds away. Dress and speech had become informal in the emergency of the War. The chaperon had disappeared. Boys leaving to be killed, it might be, had claimed the right to see their girls alone, and the sexes had drawn together in a common need and daring. After the War they were still not divided. The sexes would be comrades, they thought.

The early poems of Edna Millay are the essence of the Younger Generation.

How this genii—real Modernist poetry—was put away in its bottle is certainly a staggering historical fact, but something there is in us now that makes us want to let it out again.

To get a strong whiff from that bottle is just a google click away.

Search “Black Sun publisher Harry Crosby.”

You want real modern poetry?

Not Williams. Not Eliot. Not Stevens. Not those guys the clammy hand professors teach you in school.

You want the true modern poetry of that era? Take a swig of the drink, Harry Crosby.

The story of Modern poetry which has been sold to us: that Pound and Williams and Moore are the vital pieces, is without aesthetic merit, and its virtue is really that of a particular school program, and it exists as just that—a story—told by the critics and poets and historians who invested (and are still invested) in the Writing Program as the only viable institution of post-war pedagogy.

Government oversight of education, the publishing of textbooks, the editorship of periodical literature, the purse strings of grants and prizes and forums and money and awards, fell into the hands of the New Critics and their allies: John Crowe Ransom and T.S. Eliot both belonging to the same generation of early Modernism—and not just poetry, but art, music, fashion, government, war, the architecture/building trades, espionage, banking, international in outlook—and all the more effective because it was run by pals, a tight-knit group. Of course it is much too extensive to detail here. But very briefly then:

John Quinn, attorney, art collector, British intelligence, worked with Eliot and Pound to negotiate publication of “The Waste Land” (with pre-purchases) so Eliot would win the Dial Prize even before Pound had finished his edits—Quinn, the same individual most responsible (even getting an export bill passed in the U.S. Congress) for the Armory show, which brought Modern Art to America—Eliot wins, and meanwhile, purchase of the new art by insiders is highly, highly lucrative.  Who wouldn’t want to be in on all that phenomenal networking? Eliot and Pound certainly were. Without Quinn’s work behind the scenes, who knows if Americans would even know of Eliot, or Duchamp, or Picasso? Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom’s right-wing Southern Agrarian/New Critic associate, reviews “The Waste Land” favorably, helps start the Creative Writing program at Princeton. Paul Engle, the father of the Program Era at Iowa, is given his Yale Younger Prize for his MFA poetry book—by a judge who is a member of Ransom’s New Critic group from the early Fugitive magazine days at Vanderbilt. Robert Lowell, as Creative Writing teacher at Iowa, is the first “poet-teacher star” of the Program Era; Lowell’s psychiatrist happens to be another member of Ransom and Tate’s circle, who recommends Lowell leave Harvard to befriend Tate and Ransom, which he does. We see that all the annual Dial Magazine Prize winners in the 1920s become the canonized Modern poets: Eliot, Williams, Pound, Moore (and Cummings, who ends up running off with the Dial editor’s wife). Ford Maddox Ford, War Propaganda Minister during World War I in England, the first to meet Pound off the boat when the latter leaves America for England, will later cross the Atlantic to help start the Writing Program Era with Ramsom and Tate.

We do not present this information as some nefarious plot; the world was smaller then; we present it languidly, merely as a picture of the clever ambitions of the cleverly ambitious, who were in the right place at the right time, and who happened to possess a certain amount of talent: Eliot, in poetry, the most brilliant. John Crowe Ransom, just from his two essays which Ransom published in the 1930s, “Criticism, Inc.” and “Poets Without Laurels,”— a blueprint for universities taking up the official role of teaching the new writing, and the best explanation of amoral Modernism—was a close second.

But as we said, these were the brilliant architects who made themselves and their “new” Modern identity—an austere looseness, a dryness, a deathly cynicism—the accepted mode for the university, and it required tweedy, learned, respectability to make it happen, even as it was Shelley and Byron hating—which guys like Eliot and Tate and Ransom, with their brilliance, learning and inside track, provided.

But what of the vast majority of the Modernists, who impulsively did what true rebels do?

These “lesser” moderns crossed paths with the more successful ones, such as Pound—but they lived for the poetry, for the revolt, for the sex. These were the Moderns who wrote beautiful love poems and threw themselves off ships, as Pound and Eliot grew old and famous. What of these “lesser” moderns? Many of these “lesser” moderns, some more respectable and less feverish than others, kept writing poetry that rhymed, made sense, and repeated the great, old themes that never die. What of them? Should we continue to bury them?

And speaking of revolt, we are not simply advocating here for the resurrection of an alternative clique of poets who worked between the wars in the hectic days of the early 20th century. This is about more than that. It is about shedding narrow, modernist aesthetic bias and embracing great poems of all eras, and having the guts to call a bad poem a bad poem, even if it was written by William Carlos Williams. Look at this poem by the currently suppressed 19th century poet Elizabeth Barrett; the way she uses “revolt” is timeless, and will break your heart:

Little Mattie

Dead! Thirteen a month ago!
Short and narrow her life’s walk.
Lover’s love she could not know
Even by a dream or talk:
Too young to be glad of youth;
Missing honor, labor, rest,
And the warmth of a babe’s mouth
At the blossom of her breast.
Must you pity her for this,
And for all the loss it is—
You, her mother with wet face,
Having had all in your case?

Just so young but yesternight,
Now she is as old as death.
Meek, obedient in your sight,
Gentle to a beck or breath
Only on last Monday! yours,
Answering you like silver bells
Lightly touched! an hour matures:
You can teach her nothing else.
She has seen the mystery hid
Under Egypt’s pyramid.
By those eyelids pale and close
Now she knows what Rhamses knows.

Cross her quiet hands, and smooth
Down her patient locks of silk,
Cold and passive as in truth
You your fingers in spilt milk
Drew along a marble floor;
But her lips you can not wring
Into saying a word more,
“Yes” or “no,” or such a thing.
Though you call and beg and wreak
Half your soul out in a shriek,
She will lie there in default
And most innocent revolt.

None of Eliot’s “escape from emotion” here.

Poe said poetry was mostly mathematical—and he was correct, since rhythm is essential to expressive speech, whether metrical, or not—and mathematics is essential to quantity associated with rhythm. Eliot carried this formula further and mistranslated it to mean lack of feeling—quantity, after all, is not associated with feverish human emotion; but it is not emotion, but its expression which matters to the poet—so Eliot is only partly correct, and when his half-truth was received as a truth, it created a race of poets who turned their back on so-called “sentimental” poetry, such as this example of Elizabeth Barrett’s, a tender and beautiful poem banned by 20th century professors because of its excess “emotion” and “sentiment.” The schools are wrong. The amateurs are correct. The expression of feeling should not to be avoided in the art of poetry. More feeling isn’t better, necessarily, but it is never necessary that feeling (we mean its expression) be critically censored.

We think the best tradition for poetry is, first and foremost, the tradition of good poems—more than successful members of super-successful, networking cliques’ poorer ones.

For the truth is: Millay is a far better poet than not only Moore, but the guys, like Pound.

Certainly, “new” aesthetics can and should be studied (even if they haven’t done anyone a lick of good) but good poems written by the flesh and blood poets who lived in the same era as the better known, tweedy, experimental poets, deserve our attention, too.

Completely by chance today, as we perused old issues of Harper’s magazine, we came upon this poem by Archibald MacLeish. It is a love poem (horrors!). It was published in 1929, when Pound and Eliot were still nearly unknown, before they became famous as Axis defenders and post-WW II Modernist school subjects.

MacLeish, like the poets Frost and Millay, wrote poems people liked to read—and he was read. He was a wealthy friend of wealthy heir Harry Crosby, who—if you googled him by now—you know Crosby published MacLeish, Hart Crane, Poe, love poems, in exquisitely crafted books, a few copies at a time, and died at 29 with a young women in a suicide pact in a painter friend’s studio.

Here is a Modernist poem, the kind of poem which is now suppressed, just like Millay and Teasdale and Dorothy Parker and Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Elinor Wylie and countless other women poets are suppressed, locked away by the Moore/Williams /Pound Official Modernism professors. We close with the MacLeish poem:

To Praisers of Women

The praisers of women in their proud and beautiful poems,
Naming the grave mouth and the hair and the eyes,
Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered.
These were lies.

The words sound, but the face in the Istrian sun is forgotten.
The poet speaks, but to her dead ears no more.
The sleek throat is gone and the breast that was troubled to listen:
Shadow from door.

Therefore, I will not praise your knees and your fine walking,
Telling you men shall remember your name as long
As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
Rings from a tongue.

I shall say you were young and your arms straight and your mouth scarlet.
I shall say you will die, and none  will remember you;
Your arms change and none remember the swish of your garments
Nor the click of your shoe.

Not with my hands’ strength, not with difficult labor
Springing the obstinate words to the bones of your breast
And the stubborn line to your young stride and the breath to your breathing
And the beat to your haste,

Shall I prevail on the hearts of unborn men to remember.
What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost,
Or a dead man’s voice but a distant and vain affirmation
Like dream words most?

Therefore, I will not speak of the undying glory of women.
I shall say you were young and straight and your skin fair—
And you stood in the door, and the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders,
And a leaf on your hair.

I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women.
I shall say the shape of a blown leaf lay on your hair,
Till the world ends and the sun is out and the sky broken
Look! It is there!

THE MORAL SMUT PARADOX

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Poetry, once beautiful, has become merely eccentric; more troubling, currently, is the vast indifference, and even revulsion by the public for the art, despite valiant efforts at subsidy, chiefly the commerce and spread of university MFAs.

Some say we have a glut of poets—the MFA, a pyramid scheme when all pay for a small number who teach—poets read poets in a purely careerist context, even as real poetry hides in cracks and crevices—but “too many poets” and MFA criticism seems a small concern beside the tremendous indifference of the general public.

Why can’t poetry live outside of school (and Slam bars) and thrive in the public square, with cooking and napping and sports?

Because poetry is either

1) too easy or

2) too difficult:

1) Rhymes for imbeciles

2) Footnotes for specialists in which the content and syntax of a Newsweek essay stirs up in the reader a puzzle: why is this called poetry?

Surely there is a middle ground—between the banal pop lyric and the mangled prosy essay, between “We will, we will, rock you” and William Carlos Williams’ stupid plums, between Victorian pillow talk and academic vertigo—a middle ground of highly skilled, original poetry which pleases poet and non-poet alike—

A middle ground accessible to non-poets while alerting the poets that obscurity is over: Shelley, Keats, Byron and Dickinson are back.

This will do 3 things:

1. Make poetry better.

2. Make the pictorial and musical arts better as poetry inspires them once again

3. Revive public interest in poetry—even as the narrow creds-mongers howl in protest

The chief objection to a modern Romanticism revival (desperately needed since the pretensions of Pound and Williams mowed over the beauty of Millay) will come from the Institutional Art Theorists, who say the history of art (no matter how driven by actual folly) is more important than art, that poetry requires a “learned” context of historical change and development—as phase trumps the thing itself.

Old models—think of Greek Tragedy, cave paintings, Emerson’s doggerel, will be improved upon, yes, certainly, but the improvement comes from the original poet, not the impotent university scholar/historian who learnedly and belatedly cheers on change. The cheering in universities needs to stop and beautiful originality needs to begin.

The university historian says Keats is dead—because history is more important to them than art.

But there is an even deeper issue we need to address:

The poet, if he is worthy the name, avoids what chiefly cripples all moral expression: smutty morals, or moral smut, the heart and soul of most middle class literature.

We speak of best-selling literature in which morals are highly overt, and in order to be overt, makes smut overt as well, thus inflating even more the overt moral content, feeding and encouraging low-brow taste in the process, and dragging down in a mania of good intentions all literature into that “realism” of bad taste in which readers slum free of guilt.

The alternative: the “fantasy” genre, fares no better and is similarly in thrall, as it exploits moral smut even more overtly, using racy bad taste increasingly as its “ideal” weapon.

This earnest and vastly popular state of affairs not only makes for bad literature, it reduces the middle class population which consumes it into a species of reader entirely ill-equipped to appreciate beautiful good taste, which is the Eldorado of the Poet.

This is not to say that a certain amount of raciness and bad taste and excitement cannot drive certain types of popular literature—we are not saying there cannot be cakes and ale. Let there be cakes and ale. But when ale becomes excessive, infecting even so-called highbrow literature, and when good taste for its own sake is no longer cultivated, we reach that threshold in which the elevated feelings no longer stir, real moral beauty no longer excites, and the poor body drags along without a soul.

We also understand that lovely flowers grow in dirt, etc.  That contrast is required between low and high. Shakespeare was great at this, but his greatness—what other word is there for it?—kept the low in its place. Low is low—unless we are suckered after long exposure into admiring it.  Addicted, we continue to feed on what makes us ill; judgment atrophies, taste becomes bloated with sentimentalism, discernment wastes away, obscurity becomes robust in a pretentious miasma, and the best that’s left are sneering sophisticates with steely hearts.

The great poet resists overt morals—and the smutty bad taste which invariably feeds on it.

The prose novel, with its earthiness and scope, will sometimes benefit from this phenomenon.

But poetry is far more susceptible to the disease of which we speak.

The paradox of Moral Smut insidiously sweetens, destroying the healthy vigor of poetry, and its art, and Taste, in general.

 

 

 

THE WORK OF HUNTERS IS ANOTHER THING

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

“To please the yelping dogs” ends a thought, begins an iambic pentameter line, but doesn’t finish that line, as the poet’s argument resumes in the middle: “the gaps, I mean.”

In Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall;” the poet describes the gaps in the wall which occur, strangely, because of freezing (“frozen ground-swell”) —what is ‘frozen’ moves.

The lines, as a whole, in Frost’s poem, move languidly, argumentatively, conversationally, (“The gaps, I mean”)—in case you didn’t get it, this is what I mean; the poem, flying in the face of the canon, dares to be informal, informality as slack as a poem may get: obscurity is too slack.

“I mean” is the opposite of obscurity, the poet not ashamed to add words to make himself understood better. But in pentameter!

Charm, even of the most insouciant kind, like everything else, requires context, and the canon nicely provides it. That’s what the Tradition is for: to make things more interesting as we play handball against it, not to glumly tower above us.

Pure difficulty, pure obscurity, is never charming.

I pray, before I go to bed each night, that contemporary poets understand this.

And so here is the great crossroads of Modern Poetry in this great Frost poem of the early 20th century; two types of slackness, two roads:

The informal, which bends a few rules.

And the obscure, which breaks them all.

One leads to pleasant informality, to modern charm; the other to stupid oblivion, to slack shit.

“To please the yelping dogs” is a phrase that stays in our memory and we think for a simple and mysterious reason: to us it represents that sensual, animal life which pleases those who don’t care for poetry. “Yelping dogs” perfectly describes a life without refinement, without soul, without philosophy, without poetry. Frost uses the phrase in his poem to indicate what he does not mean.

Most people are satisfied with the “yelping dog” life, and that is all they need. Everyone needs some “yelping dog” life, but those who enjoy nothing else should not stray anywhere near poetry; they will hate its simplicity, and they will spoil it. For “yelping dog” may apply to poetry, as it may apply to everything else: an eager, noisy, social, chaotic, spirited, life can, and will, invade everything, even the so-called fine arts; it can overrun them; few are able to resist the “yelping dog” life, which is why genius and truly great art is rare. How, for instance, did the wonderful poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay get trampled? Why is “yelping” poetry, rather than beautiful poetry, critically embraced today?

Dana Gioia, reviewing Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems, wrote: “Keillor’s tone is obviously designed to rile anyone who holds the conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath (and the conventionally low one of Millay).”

Think on it! The “conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath and the conventionally low one of Millay.”

This critical ranking is true, and it happened in a few years—Millay tumbled from her perch in the 1930s.

Except for “Daddy,”—the rhyme-song of wife-anguish which emerged from Plath as she suicidally removed herself from the world of John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, the magazine of proper Modernism (be as dull and obscure as you possibly can)—the poems of Plath and Moore do not amount to very much, while Millay’s poems rock the house down (What Lips My Lips Have Kissed and Where and Why; Dirge Without Music; And You As Well Must Die, Beloved Dust; I Being Born A Woman and Distressed; If I Should Learn In Some Quite Casual Way); Moore and Plath present difficulty for its own sake.

Reading Marianne Moore’s poetry (“all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction however…”) is like peering without understanding at the complexity of a car’s engine; reading Millay’s verse is like driving that car.

So how did this happen? How did Moore and Plath gain ascendance over Millay? It had to take a lot of “yelping dog” distraction. Moore belonged to the well-connected Dial clique of Pound, Williams, Cummings, and Eliot; Plath panted after their ascendency; Millay was rudely pushed aside by that same clique, Hugh “The Pound Era” Kenner, and a few others, providing the critical hammer blows to Millay’s reputation. The point is, it only took one well-connected clique to take Millay down, because the majority of her countrymen only cared for the “yelping dog” life. The poetry garden really has but a few gardeners (critics who set the tone).

Millay is like a supersonic jet plane—it has the potential to take a lot of people on wonderful rides, but not if it is grounded. The battle for poetry will always take place among the few, because the “yelping dogs” are so distracting, and make sure that it is only the few that care enough and focus enough on poetry to truly decide poetry’s fate. Most are simply not refined enough to fight this fight. But the fight must be fought, since poetry is a door to that which truly refines the soul.

How is the soul refined? By love, of course.

And what does poetry have to do with love?

Nothing.

Which is precisely why it takes a remarkable soul to effect the marriage; most do not see the marriage as necessary; they are like those who take for granted that light and heat permeate glass—never thinking what this common phenomenon means.

The holy marriage of poetry and love, with Beauty the priest who joins them, is a radiant truth that civilizes humanity, but tumbles into obscurity and critical censure with barely a sigh, for love is socially embarrassing, and poetry, embarrassing as well, especially in the world of the yelping dog.

Only a superhuman effort can make such a marriage accepted; the poet has to court the world, not merely describe it, and this effort makes or breaks the would-be poet. Millay wrote of love, Moore, bric-a-brac. In the fashion of the hour, bric-a-brac, while the dogs yelp, is enough for the professors’ seduction, and in the Program era, ushered in by Ransom and Moore’s Dial clique, the bric-a-brac poetry professor became all-important.

One can still see contemporary poetry critics making half-hearted, half-conscious, desultory gestures in love’s direction: for instance, see Dan Chiasson’s recent review in the New Yorker of the latest book of poems by Alaska poet Olena Kalytiak Davis, which thrills to the 51 year old poet’s “sexual power” and “romance,” going so far as to say, “authentic pining in poetry, though hard to come by, is probably necessary for any poet who wishes to become a classic.”

Here is Chiasson kind of getting it, but don’t hold your breath for a Millay revival happening any time soon.  (A few poets today following Millay confuse the vulgarity for the art.)

So many are seduced by the Marianne Moore bric-a-brac school, not because they love bric-a-brac, necessarily, but because they think ‘crunchy poetry’ will leave behind the embarrassments of heart-breaking love, and allow poetry to talk about more things, to cover more ground and more moods, pushing into areas usually confined to the political essay or the long novel. Frost, gabbing casually forever.

But the bric-a-brac wish is in vain.

Like the legendary Faust, the poet tempted by verbose worldly riches—by poetry that attempts what prose is better fitted to do—leaves behind Millay and dies beneath the heavy objects of a modern bric-a-brac poetry only the very few are canny enough to know was a terrible danger, a foolish gambit, from the start.

Even as they know of the terrible danger of love—and the pining poetry, fainting for all mankind, which dies in its arms.

THE AVANT-GARDE IS LOOKING FOR A NEW (BLACK) BOYFRIEND

Cathy Park Hong: “Fuck the avant-garde.”  But does she really mean it?

For its whole existence, Scarriet has hammered away at Modernism—and its Avant-garde identity—as nothing but a meaningless, one-dimensional joke (the found poem, basically) tossed at the public by reactionary, rich, white guys in order to make it ‘cool’ to stifle truly creative efforts accessible to the public at large.

The controversy surrounding Scarriet’s claim lies in this one simple fact: the Avant-garde (Ron Silliman, et al) identifies itself as politically Left.

In Leftist circles of the Avant-garde, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are championed for their poetry, not their politics.

We might call this Pound/Eliot phenomenon the Art-Split: Bad Poet/Good Poetry.

By accepting this “Split,” the reactionary, white, male, Avant-garde is given license to dress in Left-wing clothing.

You have to believe, of course, that Pound’s poetry is important and good, and that Hugh ” The Pound Era” Kenner’s trashing of Edna Millay, for instance, was a good and noble effort to debunk old-fashioned “quietist” poetry, and not chauvinist, jealous bullying.

Leftist Ron Silliman has no taste for Edna Millay, and the “Split” allows this to appear perfectly normal.

The embarrassing and obvious truth: 1. accessibility to the public at large is democratic, 2. befuddling the masses is reactionary, gets a yawn, too—because of the “Split.”

The reason the “Split” works as an excuse is that it appeals to both Left and Right intellectuals: the greatest ‘am I an intellectual?’ test is if one is able to grasp (and embrace) the idea that a person can be bad but still write good poetry.

We do not believe this is true; we believe the opposite: one cannot be a bad person and write good poetry. If the poet is a truly bad person, the “good” poetry was most likely stolen, or written before the soul of the poet became  rotten.

And this is why Modernists hate the Romantics—because the Romantics were poetic individuals, while the Modernists (because of skyscrapers and aeroplanes and women getting the vote and other lame excuses) were not.

The “Split,” the source of so much modernist mischief, is a red herring.  The almighty “Split” even makes one think Ezra Pound must be a good poet: one must believe this is so to have intellectual, avant-garde creds—simply for the reason that for so long now, the “Split” has ruled over Letters.  The wretched, sophistical, school-boy “And then went down to the ship,/ Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and/ we set up mast and sail on that swart ship/” is somehow good because Pound is badAnd because it is wretched, it is avant-garde, and because it is avant-garde, it is wretched, and therefore better than, “What lips my lips have kissed and where and why.”  This is how those who think themselves very good judges of poetry convince themselves that Ezra Pound is a great poet.  Yes, it is truly frightening.

Despite the “Split,” rumblings about the reactionary nature of the Avant-garde were bound to start, as Scarriet does influence the culture it observes.

Witness the explosion of Left indignation in the latest Lana Turner Journal as the “Split”-fooled Left vaguely catches on.

We have Kent Johnson, an imaginative and brilliant man, in “No Avant-Garde: Notes Toward A Left  Front of the Arts,” reduced to the most pitiful, quixotic Old Leftism it is possible to imagine. In his essay, he imagines splendidly well, and he knows a great deal, but he’s very bitter, obviously, as the ugly truth—the Avant-garde is, and has always been, reactionary—sinks in.

We have Joshua Clover, in “The Genealogical Avant-Garde,” complaining in the same vein.

The current avant-gardes in contemporary Anglophone poetry make their claims largely by reference to previous avant-gardes.

The genealogical avant-garde is defined by a single contradiction. It has no choice but to affirm the very cultural continuity which it must also claim to oppose.

The “Split” is always rationalized.

The “Split” in this case, however, is not Bad Poet/Good Poetry, and in some ways it is far less problematic.

The “Split” now imploding due to common sense is: Bad Mainstream/Good Avant-garde.

The Avant-garde, as the progressive intellectuals finally understand it, is the Mainstream—and thus, bad.  Had they been able to see, 100 years ago, the nature of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, F. O. Matthiessen, and their New Critic allies, they would not have taken so long to understand the clever reactionary agenda.

But now they are finally getting it.

Cathy Park Hong (writing in Lana Turner no. 7) definitely wants a new boyfriend.  And it ‘aint Ron Silliman.

To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition.

Poets of color have always been expected to sit quietly in the backbenches of both mainstream and avant-garde poetry. We’ve been trotted out in the most mindless forms of tokenism for anthologies and conferences, because to have all white faces would be downright embarrassing. For instance, Donald Allen’s classic 1959 and even updated 1982 anthology New American Poetry, which Marjorie Perloff has proclaimed “the anthology of avant-garde poetry,” includes a grand tally of one minority poet: Leroi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka. Tokenism at its most elegant.

Mainstream poetry is rather pernicious in awarding quietist minority poets who assuage quasi-white liberal guilt rather than challenge it. They prefer their poets to praise rather than excoriate, to write sanitized, easily understood personal lyrics on family and ancestry rather than make sweeping institutional critiques. But the avant-gardists prefer their poets of color to be quietest as well, paying attention to poems where race—through subject and form—is incidental, preferably invisible, or at the very least, buried. Even if racial identity recurs as a motif throughout the works of poets like John Yau, critics and curators of experimental poetry are quick to downplay it or ignore it altogether. I recall that in graduate school my peers would give me backhanded compliments by saying my poetry was of interest because it “wasn’t just about race.” Such an attitude is found in Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith’s anthology, “Against Expression,” when they included excerpts from M. NourbeSe Philip’s brilliant “Zong!,” which explores the late 18th century British court case where 150 slaves were thrown overboard so the slave ship’s captain could collect the insurance money. The book is a constraint-based tour-de-force that only uses words found in the original one-page legal document.  Here is how Dworkin and Goldsmith characterize Zong: “the ethical inadequacies of that legal document . . . do not prevent their détournement in the service of experimental writing.” God forbid that maudlin and heavy-handed subjects like slavery and mass slaughter overwhelm the form!

The avant-garde’s “delusion of whiteness” is the luxurious opinion that anyone can be “post-identity” and can casually slip in and out of identities like a video game avatar, when there are those who are consistently harassed, surveilled, profiled, or deported for whom they are.

Even today, avant-garde’s most vocal, self-aggrandizing stars continue to be white and even today these stars like Kenneth Goldsmith spout the expired snake oil that poetry should be “against expression” and “post-identity.”

From legendary haunts like Cabaret Voltaire to San Remo and Cedar Tavern, avant-garde schools have fetishized community to mythologize their own genesis. But when I hear certain poets extolling the values of their community today, my reaction is not so different from how I feel a self-conscious, prickling discomfort that there is a boundary drawn between us. Attend a reading at St. Marks Poetry Project or the launch of an online magazine in a Lower East Side gallery and notice that community is still a packed room of white hipsters.

Avant-garde poetry’s attitudes towards race have been no different than that of mainstream institutions.

The encounter with poetry needs to change constantly via the internet, via activism and performance, so that poetry can continue to be a site of agitation, where the audience is not a receptacle of conditioned responses but is unsettled and provoked into participatory response. But will these poets ever be accepted as the new avant-garde? The avant-garde has become petrified, enamored by its own past, and therefore forever insular and forever looking backwards. Fuck the avant-garde. We must hew our own path.

Yes, “fuck the avant-garde.”  But we might just add that it is the avant-garde that has always been the problem; in this case, the tail wags the dog.

The New Critics (ex-I’ll Take My Stand Old South reactionary agrarianists) got an “in” when they launched their textbook, Understanding Poetry in the late 30s—it praised Pound and attacked Poe.

Popular poets like Edgar Poe and Edna St. Vincent Millay were the Mainstream “good” ambushed by the clique of Eliot, Pound and the New Critics.

How blithely and unthinkingly Cathy Park Hong takes up the “quietist” definition of the avant-garde (and ostentatiously Left) Silliman.

Unfortunately, they will get fooled again.

100 ESSENTIAL BOOKS OF POETRY

 

EYE Don Share

Collecting is where material pride, wisdom and love uneasily sit, an endless pursuit which moves product, an endless boon to any enterprise.  To collect is to amass, to buy, to own, to bring into one’s circle the niceties of some industry for one’s own comfort and inspection. The collectable items should be unique, if not numerous, and if not unique, at least very rare.  Collecting is to break off pieces of some whole, but the item, when found, bought, discovered, possessed, is a shining whole to the collector, and compared to it, the universe is a sad jumble—such is the profundity of collecting.

Poetry anthologies spread wealth; poetry is centrifugal; it scatters itself outward freely.  Except where it overlaps with the ‘rare book collector,’ poetry, despite its fecundity, is not collectable; collecting is centripetal; it waits in vaults and rooms crowded with unique paintings, coins, and cars.  To know coins, one must darken them in one’s palm; to know poetry, one merely glimpses what every other person glimpses.

The following list is not a rare book list; increasingly, great old poetry, important translated poetry, and all sorts of rare poetry, simply lives on the internet.

This, in many ways, is a perfectly centrifugal list, readily available to whatever soul—no matter how mysterious, no matter how centripetal, no matter how hidden, no matter how curious—happens to want it.

Poetry is against collecting.  Poetry doesn’t  hoard; you can be deeply poetic for free.

These are books you could own, or read, or memorize, or teach, or learn, and probably already have.

Good translations are necessary, but impossible.  Old poems are necessary, but impossible.  Good, new poetry is necessary, but impossible.

The list below is mundane, but necessary.  This—mostly from the top of the list—is what you read if you want to know poetry.

It is everywhere, but it still must hit you.

 

1. SHAKESPEARE SONNETS, AUDEN INTRODUCTION  Modern poetry begins here. A definite sequence: 1-14 children as immortality, 15-28 poems as immortality, etc.

2. POE: POETRY, TALES, AND SELECTED ESSAYS (LIBRARY OF AMERICA) Iconic poems, tales of poetic quality, even criticism of poetic quality

3. VIKING BOOK OF POETRY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING WORLD, RICHARD ALDINGTON  H.D.’s husband, got Eliot out of the bank, solid anthology by this Brit wounded in WW I who knew all the Modernists and hated most of them (375 poets)

4. PLATO: THE COLLECTED DIALOGUES, BOLLINGEN SERIES, EDITH HAMILTON, ED  Poetry being born

5. THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE, COMPLETE WORKS  With Shakespeare the best is just to read, and forget all the notes

6. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE, JOHN D. SINCLAIR, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD U. PRESS)  Verse translation hopeless; take the prose Sinclair with Italian on the facing page

7. THE ILIAD OF HOMER TRANSLATED BY ALEXANDER POPE (PENGUIN)  The king of men his reverent priest defied/And for the king’s offense the people died

8. THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY ALEXANDER POPE (MACMILLAN, 1911)  The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d/Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound

9. EDNA MILLAY COLLECTED, NORMA MILLAY (HARPER)  Tragically undervalued as Modernism came into vogue, Millay’s Collected is a must

10. PHILIP LARKIN THE COMPLETE POEMS, ARCHIE BURNETT  recently published master of the short lyric

11. LYRICAL BALLADS, WORDSWORTH, COLERIDGE  A shame Coleridge didn’t contribute more

12. WASTELAND AND OTHER POEMS, T.S. ELIOT  The one Modernist who could really write poetry (and prose).

13. LEAVES OF GRASS, WHITMAN (1855 EDITION) The first edition, before it got too long-winded

14. THE COMPLETE POEMS OF JOHN MILTON WRITTEN IN ENGLISH (HARVARD CLASSICS) You can’t go wrong with melodious Milton

15. UNDERSTANDING POETRY, BROOKS AND WARREN Textbooks are propaganda—this most used anthology in the 20th c. attacked Poe and elevated Pound/Williams

16. SELECTED POETRY & LETTERS, BYRON, EDWARD BOSTETTER, ED  Byron was very, very unhappy

17. POCKET BOOK OF MODERN VERSE, OSCAR WILLIAMS (1954)  Okay. Some of modern verse is good

18. A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, AN INTRODUCTORY ANTHOLOGY, CZESLAW MILOSZ  International poetry collections are good things

19. SELECTED POEMS AND TWO PLAYS, WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, ROSENTHAL, ED  Yeats benefits from Selected as opposed to Collected

20. OVID, THE LOVE POEMS, A.D. MELVILLE, ED. And you can really learn something, lovers

21. THE BEST LOVED POEMS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, HAZEL FELLEMAN  Because these uncritical anthologies always have some gems

22. ROBERT BROWNING, THE POEMS, PETTIGREW, ED. 2 VOLS  Because it’s Robert Browning

23. A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN POETRY, SELDEN RODMAN (1938)   Great snapshot of poetry in the 1930s: lots of ballads of political anguish

24. 100 GREAT POEMS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MARK STRAND, ED.  A very nice selection from a poet whose reputation is fading

25. POETRY OF WITNESS: THE TRADITION IN ENGLISH 1500-2001, CAROLYN FORCHE, DUNCAN WU, EDS   Poetry handles real horror

26. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1988, LEHMAN, SERIES ED. ASHBERY, GUEST ED. The first volume in the series may be the best

27. ARIEL, SYLVIA PLATH  A whirlwind of rhyme and rage

28. PABLO NERUDA, TWENTY LOVE SONGS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR, DUAL-LANGUAGE EDITION (PENGUIN) Neruda may get you laid

29. GREAT POEMS BY AMERICAN WOMEN: AN ANTHOLOGY, SUSAN RATTINER (DOVER) Women once had a higher standing as poets

30. OXFORD BOOK OF LIGHT VERSE, W.H. AUDEN, EDITOR  Who said light verse was light?

31. PALGRAVE’S GOLDEN TREASURY, FRANCIS TURNER PALGRAVE (1861) Look out! Right-wing poetry!

32. LIBRARY OF WORLD POETRY, WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT Worth a peek

33. 100 POEMS FROM THE JAPANESE, KENNETH REXROTH  blossoms and other stuff

34. BLACK POETS OF THE UNITED STATES: FROM PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR TO LANGSTON HUGHES, JEAN WAGNER  Before rap

35. THE OXFORD BOOK OF NARRATIVE VERSE, PETER OPIE  A narrative poem does not exist?

36. A BOY’S WILL, ROBERT FROST  His first book, published in England while the 40 year old poet made contacts there

37. THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY 1945-1960, DONALD ALLEN   Dawn of the post-war avant-garde

38. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1990, LEHMAN SERIES EDITOR, JORIE GRAHAM, GUEST EDITOR  Has that wonderful poem by Kinnell…

39. FIRST WORLD WAR POETRY, JON SILKIN, EDITOR  While being slaughtered, they wrote

40. SPANISH POETRY: A DUAL LANGUAGE ANTHOLOGY 16TH-20TH CENTURIES, ANGEL FLORES  Dual Languages are a must, really

41. THE HERITAGE OF RUSSIAN VERSE, DIMITRI OBOLENSKY  “From The Ends To The Beginning A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse” is available on-line

42. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007, LEHMAN, SERIES EDITOR, MCHUGH, GUEST EDITOR   One of the best volumes in the series

43. POETS TRANSLATE POETS, A HUDSON REVIEW ANTHOLOGY, PAULA DIETZ, ED.  Nice historical sweep…

44. ART AND ARTISTS: POEMS, EMILY FRAGOS (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)    Art really meets poetry; lovely poems

45. W.H. AUDEN COLLECTED POEMS Best poet of the 20th century; slighted by anthologies

46. POEMS 1965-1975 SEAMUS HEANEY  Never quite made it to major status

47. POEMS BEWITCHED AND HAUNTED, JOHN HOLLANDER, ED (EVERYMAN’S POCKET LIBRARY)  Some really darling pieces here

48. COMPLETE POEMS OF KEATS AND SHELLEY (MODERN LIBRARY) The two best—the best, the best

49. THE 20TH CENTURY IN POETRY, HULSE, RAE, EDS (PEGASUS BOOKS)   Wonderful idea: poems in close chronology throughout the century

50. VITA NOVA, DANTE, MARK MUSA, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD) A great book for so many reasons

51. CHAUCER: THE CANTERBURY TALES (PENGUIN) father of English literature, we hear

52. HYPERION; BALLADS & OTHER POEMS, LONGFELLOW (1841)  “Hyperion” is a very modern poem…

53. THE RAG AND BONE SHOP OF THE HEART: A POETRY ANTHOLOGY, ROBERT BLY, EDITOR  A lot of Rumi and Neruda

54. WORLD POETRY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF VERSE FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT, WASHBURN, MAJOR, FADIMAN, EDS  The translations are terrible, the selections are generally weak, but kudos for the attempt

55. LES FLEUR DU MAL, BAUDELAIRE  Ah…Baudelaire!

56. VICTORIAN WOMEN POETS: AN ANTHOLOGY, LEIGHTON, REYNOLDS, EDS (BLACKWELL)  That backwards era when women poets sold better than their male counterparts

57.  IMMORTAL POEMS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, OSCAR WILLIAMS   Solid overview (150 poets) without too much emphasis on annoying moderns

58. ALEXANDER POPE, SELECTED (OXFORD POETRY LIBRARY) You could do worse than his verse

59. A TREASURY OF GREAT POEMS, LOUIS UNTERMEYER   Almost 2OO poets

60. AMERICAN POETRY: THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, HOLLANDER, ED, LIBRARY OF AMERICA   A good look around at two centuries ago

61. ANEID, VIRGIL, ROBERT FITZGERALD, TRANSLATOR  Poet of the silver age…

62. THE POETICAL WORKS OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, RUTH M. ADAMS INTRO  She was the famous poet when Robert met her

63. THE ESSENTIAL RUMI, COLEMAN BARKS, ED  Passion pushed to the limit of wisdom

64. EUGENE ONEGIN BY ALEXANDER PUSHKIN, STANLEY MITCHELL (PENGUIN) The most modern of all epics

65. DYLAN THOMAS, COLLECTED, PAUL MULDOON, INTRO Too drunk to write many poems; this may be good or bad

66. POETRY OF DEREK WALCOTT 1948-2013, SELECTED BY GLYN MAXWELL  Between obligation and pleasure, we read…

67. BRITISH POETRY SINCE 1945, EWARD LUCIE-SMITH.  The poor modern Brits, neither old nor quite modern

68. THE PALM AT THE END OF THE MIND, WALLACE STEVENS, SELECTED POEMS & A PLAY  Pretentious rot, but fun

69. ROBERT LOWELL, COLLECTED  Most overrated poet of the 20th century, but has his moments

70  AMERICAN PRIMITIVE, MARY OLIVER  Our little Wordsworth

71. GORGEOUS NOTHINGS, EMILY DICKINSON, WERNER, BERRIN, EDS (NEW DIRECTIONS)  A really bizarre document

72. ELIZABETH BISHOP, POEMS (FSG)  Another one of those poets who wrote few, but good, poems

73. A CHOICE OF ENGLISH ROMANTIC POETRY, STEPHEN SPENDER (DIAL PRESS)  Rare, if you can track it down…(it’s at the Grolier in Hvd Sq)

74. CHIEF MODERN POETS OF BRITAIN AND AMERICA, 5th Edition, SANDERS, NELSON, ROSENTHAL  Can’t get enough of those chief poets

75. NEW AMERICAN POETS OF THE 80s, MYERS & WEINGARTEN Look back into the recent, recent past

76. BIRTHDAY LETTERS, TED HUGHES  The poetry isn’t good, but interesting historical document

77. TRANFORMATIONS, ANNE SEXTON, FOREWARD BY KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Modernized fairy tales—very influential

78. THE ESSENTIAL HAIKU, ROBERT HASS, ED (ECCO)  We forget Imagism sprang directly from haiku rage in West after Japan won Russo-Japanese War

79. THE DIVINE COMEDY, CLIVE JAMES, TRANSLATOR. This new translation is worth a read

80. PENGUIN BOOK OF FRENCH POETRY 1820-1950  Good translation anthologies are few and far between

81. ESSENTIAL PLEASURES: A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS TO READ ALOUD, PINSKY, ED  Reading aloud is good

82. THE RATTLE BAG, SEAMUS HEANEY, TED HUGHES, EDS  Conservative selection: Shakespeare, Blake, Hardy, Lawrence, Frost, etc

83. MODERNIST WOMEN POETS, ROBERT HASS, PAUL EBENKAMP, EDS   Not a large number of poets

84. COLLECTED FRENCH TRANSLATIONS, JOHN ASHBERY (FSG)  Not the most trustworthy translator, but we’ll take ’em

85. VILLANELLES (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)  These editions are available and lovely—why not?

86. BRIGHT WINGS: AN ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS ABOUT BIRDS, BILLY COLLINS, ED  All the best poems are bird poems—it’s really true

87. THE ETERNAL ONES OF THE DREAM: SELECTED POEMS 1990-2010, JAMES TATE Iowa Workshop poem par excellence, poignant, miserable, and cute

88. GOOD POEMS, GARRISON KEILLOR  As accessible as it gets

89. THE MAKING OF A SONNET, HIRSCH/BOLAND, EDS (NORTON) There’s no best sonnet anthology, but this one is good

90. MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA, DAVID HINTON, ED  Includes the major poets

91. SELECTED RILKE, ROBERT BLY, ED  Amazing how well Rilke sells in the U.S.

92. KING JAMES BIBLE  Yea, poetry

93. WELDON KEES, COLLECTED POEMS, DONALD JUSTICE, ED  Somewhat creepy—as modern poetry truly ought to be?

94. BILLY COLLINS, AIMLESS LOVE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (RANDOM HOUSE)  Collins is America’s modern poet—get used to it.

95. JOHN ASHBERY, SELF PORTRAIT IN A CONVEX MIRROR  His tour de force

96. NORTH OF BOSTON, ROBERT FROST (1915, HENRY HOLT) Like Emerson, Whitman, and Melville before him, interest by the English was the ticket to fame

97. HOWL AND OTHER POEMS, ALLEN GINSBERG  A Hieronymous Bosch nightmare

98. TALES FROM THE DECAMERON OF GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO, RICHARD ALDINGTON (1930)  this 14th century writer considered a ‘novelist’ but influenced Chaucer

99. EROSION, JORIE GRAHAM  Such promise!  Then along came Alan Cordle

100. LUNCH POEMS, FRANK O’HARA  Not repasts; snacks; the virtue of O’Hara is that he’s funny

 

 

 

WHY HAS THE PUBLIC TURNED ITS BACK ON POETRY?

Why has the public turned its back on poetry?   That’s easy to answer.

We no longer know whether poetry is fiction or non-fiction.

Bird-watching involves watching birds.  Novels are elaborate stories.  Songs are emotional outbursts from the heart.  Biographies are real.  Science books are factual.  Poetry is…?

Poetry is unable to identify itself for a mass audience—that’s the problem in a nutshell.

The public’s lack of interest was made apparent to us again this week, as many bright, educated friends of ours told us they had never heard of Seamus Heaney.

The Modernists and experimentalists, by “opening up” the genre to anything and everything, have essentially made it disappear.

The wise understand that it’s impossible to be everything.

Everyone seems to understand this.

Except poets today.

Of course there’s a perverse handful (there always is) who love “poetry” precisely because of its ill-defined nature.

A certain ugly, noxious, personality thrives on the ill-defined—for obvious reasons.

There is a half-formed intellectual nature which associates all that is profound with a detailed vagueness; unable to perfect mental or material completion, they persist in championing the unformed as a  poorly disguised way to validate their own shortcomings.

The final irony, of course, is how were the Modernist gnats, whom the public ignores, able to kill all poetry for the public?  How was traditional, mainstream poetry killed by the ill-defined, if the ill-defined is nothing?

The answer, to put it simply, is that the Modernist gnats did not kill mainstream poetry, for Edna St. Vincent Millay was selling while Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams were not, well into the 20th century.  In mid-20th century America, Frost was popular, Shakespeare everywhere, liberal arts colleges taught Keats and Shelley, high schools, Poe, Dickinson, and Milton, and songwriting was witty and intelligent.

But everyone knows that fine arts need to be cultivated; good taste doesn’t fall out of the sky.  Secondly, anyone who lives in America knows what a powerful tool advertising is, and thirdly, poetry has no material value; its value lives in the minds and souls and sensibilities of those who read it and teach it and share it.

Simple neglect, then, has killed the public’s love of poetry; we err by giving Pound, Williams, and the Modernist gnats too much credit; logically, that which the public ignores cannot influence the public.

If we, as observers and critics of poetry, notice a decline in poetic interest, and attribute it to “Modern” poetry, we persist in a vast error, granting a power and an influence to that which has no power, and no influence, even as we rightly condemn “Modern” poetry as poor, faulty, and even pernicious.  “The Red Wheel Barrow” had nothing to do with the loss of interest in “Paradise Lost.”  The latter died from simple neglect; from simple lack of cultivation.

The fact of someone’s fiction is a fact.  The museum is a fact, a reality, which holds art that is neither fact, nor reality.  Art does not exist unless it is cultivated, presented, taught, and framed in fact.  A university is a fact that curates and teaches poems.  The publisher is the fact that dreams the fiction; the fiction will not dream otherwise.  The fact of “The Red Wheel Barrow” has everything and nothing to do with the fact of “Paradise Lost.”  “The Red Wheel Barrow” and “Paradise Lost” are both poems that may be converted into fact, and if so, one “poem” invariably belongs to “the present,” the other to “the past,” and this fact will ensure that poetry “in the present” no longer exists.  “The Red Wheel Barrow” cannot kill poetry.  A textbook can.  Abstract painting cannot kill painting.  A museum can.

A wheel barrow and a splatter of paint are facts, not fiction.  Modern art streams away from fiction into fact—the fact of text book and museum its only home.

Facts depend on other facts; artistic unity is unheard of in the world of facts and science.  Poe called his “Eureka” a poem only because he strove to make, by way of the universe, unity factual; unity of expression was the ultimate poetic fact for Poe.

The minute a Keats introduces fact into a poem, he is lost.  To work up a fiction into a unity is the role of the poet, for Keats.  The reader who selects Keats is selecting fiction—fiction doing what it does best, assuming that unity is not only possible, but vital.  In his “long poems, Byron played (comically) with digression; inevitably violating unity, he laughed at himself, the convention of poetic unity a standard none could safely ignore.

Poetry was once fiction.  And because it was fiction, artistic unity was paramount.

These two—poetry as strictly fictional and poetry as an expression of artistic unity—is chiefly what has fallen into neglect as Modernism invaded the vacuum, a big nothing filling a black hole: the  great public yawn in poetry’s busy face.

The temptation of the fact has triumphed; witness America’s recent obsession with “trivia.”

Facts are important when it comes to roofs and sewer pipes, and obviously in non-fiction, but who thought it was a good thing for poetry?

Listening to the poet John Yau recently, we were struck by the purely autobiographical nature of the poetry; Yau told us about his mother and his father, etc  It was charming—as factual conversations sometimes are.  Facts are seductive.

The poet Marilyn Chin’s best known poem, “How I Got That Name,” informs us that she was named for Marilyn Monroe.  This is factually interesting.  Of course it is.  We embrace with our literary bones the seductive fact.

Loose facts are seductive.  But they never cohere into a poetic unity.

The Writing Workshop mantra, “Write what you know,” does not refer to what a writer “knows” philosophically or imaginatively, but simply what a writer knows factually about their own life.  But the whole point of poetry and imaginative literature is not to express what is already subjectively known (and enhanced, perhaps, by clever research) but to learn what we can know in the imaginative writing act itself.

Interesting information, dressed up as literature, is not the same thing as what Keats, who never told us about his ma and pa in a poem, built with his imagination.

EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY DANCES WITH ALEXANDER POPE

The woman is quicker to be annoyed by the slightest thing and this is a great advantage when it comes to composing poetry. The man will sweep problems under the rug or soothe all worry by announcing he will take care of it (no he won’t) or he will invent God to fix everything. Edna Millay laments death with eyes wide open like no one else.

To read Millay is like opening a door onto Great Poetry of the Past. One almost suspects it is a trick, she is so good. She is that good, for she is not writing in the Past but in her present, which to us is a default past only and no more the past than this moment is. If we read it as the past, we are confusing the great and the past, which have nothing to do with each other and are, in fact, opposites, since what is great is eternal and has no past.

AND YOU AS WELL MUST DIE–Edna Millay

And you as well must die, belovèd dust,
And all your beauty stand you in no stead;
This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
This body of flame and steel, before the gust
Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
Than the first leaf that fell, this wonder fled,
Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
In spite of all my love, you will arise
Upon that day and wander down the air
Obscurely as the unattended flower,
It mattering not how beautiful you were,
Or how belovèd above all else that dies.

The whole thrust of Millay’s poem is Do you see how unfair this is?  Others may shrug in the face of death but these others are not poets—since a shrug won’t write many poems.

Millay isn’t trying to cleverly rationalize the problem of death away: she chooses to focus on two things: death and praise of the beloved who must die and the praise is so beautifully done that it makes Millay’s annoyance with death beautiful–if that is possible.

It doesn’t take Millay long to say what she needs to say, precisely because there is no solution to the problem and so the short lyric form is ideal for her in this case (as it is for her generally), since neither complaint nor beauty can work rhetorically for very long, and Millay is more than up to the template’s task, as she makes every line beautiful.

This is why Millay is such an exceptional poet. Poets can do many things, but few can make every line beautiful–and we use the word, “beautiful,” in the profoundest sense possible–we don’t mean pretty or comely or abstract, since Millay’s topic–death–is the most serious topic there is.

Beauty is not found on the highway.  There are very specific reasons for beauty, but this explanation of Millay’s poem need not diminish her, since poetry is not found on the highway, either.  ‘Highway poets’ may object.  Let them. (Millay was abused in print by Pound’s influential clique.) Millay needs no apology.

Alexander Pope belongs to that poetic tradition in which a certain amount of critical abuse reigns in the public arena—healthy and dangerous for the individuals involved (like mountain trekking)—but healthy, we think, for Letters in general. Scarriet believes in Criticism, and if Criticism is good, then Scarriet’s Poetry March Madness Tournament is good. Let the whole chorus sing out-loud in harmony.

We are sad there has to be a loser here.  Millay is 4th seeded in the West, and Pope, not thought of as a ‘Romantic,’ is only seeded 13th.  Born in the 17th century, Pope’s lyric, “Ode On Solitude” out-Wordsworths Wordsworth.  The pyramidal stanza, which reminds us of Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” is especially forceful:

ODE ON SOLITUDE–Alexander Pope

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix’d; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

These poems are delicious compliments to each other; not surprisingly, the game has gone into overtime, as both teams refuse to lose, clawing at each other, embracing each other like lovers, exhausted, the battle refusing to end.

Finally, it’s over: Millay 106, Pope 105

EDGAR LEE MASTERS AND EDNA MILLAY: THEY SUCK!

Edgar Lee Masters: Not sexy, but wrote prose poetry before WC Williams

Fads are born of flux, yet to their followers they’re as real as steel, or iron.  Tell a member of the hardcore poetry community that Edgar Lee Masters and Edna Vincent Millay are more significant than William Carlos Williams or Wallace Stevens and watch them gag.  Ron Silliman would gag.  Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff would gag. Harold Bloom would die.  There is a hiearchy. Flux may seem to  be the modernist mode; it’s not.  It’s iron.

The bookish Helen Vendler has made us love Wallace Stevens, the insurance agent, in his off-white suit; Stevens, like Alexander Pope, put his philosophy in verse (and somehow ended up being called modern for it), but the hardcore poetry community’s adoration of Bill Williams is based on nothing we can ascertain as very interesting.  While he lived, no one liked Williams much—WCW mourned the fact that Auden blew him away at a public reading, but celebrity has made its way through unseen byways in Bill’s favor; it perhaps had something to do with his friendship with the notorious Pound, which led to his being tagged as some kind of “American” (New Jersey?) alternative to Pound and Eliot, or that he “helped” Allen Ginsberg (Ginsberg’s poet father Louis ran in the same art circles as Williams), but whatever the reason, WCW has been a bookish fad ever since the New Critics put “Red Wheel Barrow” in their poetry textbook Understanding Poetry and informed their readers his little poem was “lucid” and “fresh.”

The hardcore academic poetry community still somehow believes that sincerity and plain prose go together; perhaps they do, perhaps they are right, and perhaps I should end my essay right here on that note.  Sincerity does go a long way in many people’s eyes, and the more I think on the word sincerity, the more I do feel worthy of punishment and feel I deserve to be accused of bad faith for questioning the worth of William Carlos Williams.  If one squashes an ant, half the world will be indifferent and the other half will feel sorry for the ant; so why would any critic ever want to treat “Red Wheel Barrow” harshly?  Better not go near it; but one keeps seeing it, and that’s the secret of Williams’ fame: one cannot squash the ant.  It keeps going and going…

It is a little quixotic for Williams to complain, as he did, of T.S. Eliot’s foreign allusions: we wonder if Mr. Williams is aware that American implies foreign in its very soul?  How can one poet ever claim that he, more than others, writes for Americans, in subject matter, style, or language?  Isn’t such a claim suspect?  We wonder why Mr. Williams and his supporters get a free pass in making it.

In William Carlos Williams’ first book (Poems, 1909),  his poems are like this:

The Uses of Poetry

I’ve fond anticipation of a day
O’erfilled with pure diversion presently,
For I must read a lady poesy
The while we glide by many a leafy bay,

Hid deep in rushes, where at random play
The glossy black winged May-flies, or whence flee
Hush-throated nestlings in alarm,
Whom we have idly frighted with our boat’s long sway.

For, lest o’ersaddened by such woes as spring
To rural peace from our meek onward trend,
What else more fit? We’ll draw the latch-string

And close the door of sense; then satiate wend,
On poesy’s transforming giant wing,
To worlds afar whose fruits all anguish mend.

“Fruits all anguish mend??”  This is dreck—yet it was published when Williams was 26.   It was not until he was in his late 30s and joined the Kreymborg, Arensburg, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Man Ray, Louis Ginsberg, Marcel Duchamp “Dial” clique that the Williams of “The Red Wheel Barrow” emerged.

What most don’t realize, is that well before Williams found both himself and his coterie, Edgar Lee Masters, in his wildly popular “Spoon River Anthology,” already sounded more modern and impure than Williams:

Albert Schirding

Jonas Keene thought his lot a hard one
Because his children were all failures.
But I know of a fate more trying than that:
It is to be a failure while your children are successes.
For I raised a brood of eagles
Who flew away at last, leaving me
A crow on the abandoned bough.
Then, with the ambition to prefix Honorable to my name,
And thus to win my children’s admiration,
I ran for County Superintendent of Schools,
Spending my accumulations to win — and lost.
That fall my daughter received first prize in Paris
For her picture, entitled, “The Old Mill” —
(It was of the water mill before Henry Wilkin put in steam.)
The feeling that I was not worthy of her finished me.

—Edgar Lee Masters

Humble Spoon River, with its poetry in plain prose, was published in 1916, when William Carlos Williams was still trying and failing at rhyme.

In his book, Innovators & Outsiders, American Poetry Since 1950, Eliot Weinberger, who writes in his introduction of the great divide in American poetry: “the ruling party” and the “innovator outsiders,” begins his anthology with WC Williams.  It’s typical Williams: mundane description plus a bit of avant-garde, modern art philosophy.  “The Desert Music” describes a trip with his wife and some friends to a poor Mexican border town while tossing in bon mots such as, “Only the poem. /Only the counted poem, to an exact measure:/to imitate, not to copy nature, not/to copy nature,” daring you to make a connection between this snatch of earnest literary criticism and a trip to a Mexican border town,  just as “The Red Wheel Barrow” dares you to connect “So much depends” with that barrow glazed with rain water.

It’s a rather bland compositional technique: the matter-of-fact imagery makes it ‘modern’ and the pasted-on lecture: only the poem—makes it seem different, mystical.  How innovative and original is this poetaster technique?  We don’t know.

As a reader you must decide between two points of view: ‘what the hell does he mean by only the poem?‘ or: ‘only the poem—of course! only the poem,‘ nodding sagely.  There’s really no in-between: you must choose for yourself: are you smart or are you dumb? It’s a sly trick the sly poets play: because you don’t want to seem dumb.  You do want to be in the crowd that knows the deep mystical zen significance of “so much depends,” don’t you?

Of course we know Williams was part of the modern art scene, and understood the direction things were going: painting was becoming flat: only paint upon the canvas! 

“Only the poem” is a slogan obviously in this spirit—and barking a slogan in a poem about what a poem should be is to “flatten” the poem. “Don’t copy nature.”  We don’t really associate Williams with the New York School, but there it is.  The modernist Paris-moving-to-New York- art clique was small—but still fit the modern poetry clique within it pretty comfortably.

The formula first emerges most forcefully with “The Red Wheel Barrow.”  Poetry, unlike painting, is difficult to flatten,  because how do you get away with “anybody can do that” in language?   The art world makes objects and once a museum owns an object, a certain legitimacy sets in, but with poetry, the stamp of radical approval is harder to get. 

Williams struck on a method, which is pretty simple: First: copy nature in the poem up to a point, presenting an imagery from real life. Second: Add to the imagery some piece of philosophical jargon which does not fit the imagery or enhance it or extend it in any way at all.   Voila!  You have  flattened the poem.   Williams is intentionally boring.  It’s a style, born of modern art.  Present a red wheel barrow.  Then flatten it with “so much depends.”  So much depends on this object which I am objectifying on the flat-surface-object of my poem.  This is the intention.

Here’s a lesser known poem by Williams, but typical; one can clearly see the flattening formula at work:

To Waken An Old Lady

Old age is
a flight of small
cheeping birds
skimming
bare trees
above a snow glaze.
Gaining and failing
they are buffeted
by a dark wind —
But what?
On harsh weedstalks
the flock has rested —
the snow
is covered with broken
seed husks
and the wind tempered
with a shrill
piping of plenty.

The imagery is precise and cute: “small,” “cheeping,” “skimming,” and nothing much, but it gets flattened by the wordy additions, “Old age is,” and “But what?”  It’s the same strategy of “Wheel Barrow.”  1) Paint a little scene, 2) attach a declaration of some sort.  Neither one enhances the other, and thus the whole thing is intentionally de-enhanced.  We yawn, and feel mystified at the same time, as when we look at one of those modern art blank canvases at MOMA.  The absurdity is brought mystically to the fore—and we can hear it in the phlegmatic “Old age is…”  Shall I compare “cheeping birds buffeted by a dark wind” to “old age?”   Of course I shall!  It’s perfect!

Now look at this poem by silly old Edna St. Vincent Millay, which no member of the hardcore academic poetry community wants to touch:

Recuerdo

 We were very tired, we were very merry—
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
    It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
    But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
    We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
    And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

    We were very tired, we were very merry—
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
    And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
    From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
    And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
    And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

    We were very tired, we were very merry,
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
    We hailed “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
    And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
    And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
    And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

Edna Millay’s strategy is much different.  Hers is a far more natural evocation of old age than the Williams.  Old age has life in “Recuerdo;” it merely gets a metaphorical snapshot in “To Waken An Old Lady.” The realist mode fell out of favor in the hip artistic circles Williams travelled in during his middle age, but one can see how Millay’s poem succeeds on several levels—by contrast, the Williams, with its “Old age is…,” feels flat, formulaic, and artificial.

PLACES, EVERYONE!

Gertrude Stein posed for this statue (1992) in Paris (1920), but it sits in (William Cullen) Bryant Park in New York City.

Nothing exists but that it also exists elsewhere.  Anyone can pass through a place and be in other places that way, but few can make multiple places seem permanent and their own.  Only two things can do this: empire on a large scale, and the profound soul on the other.

America mostly knows its writers by place—for all of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendent philosophy, we know him by his ‘old manse’ in Concord and Emerson’s plot of New England land is where Thoreau built his cabin by Walden Pond.

Nathaniel Hawthorne rented from Emerson, too, but Hawthorne’s reputation is linked with nearby Salem.

The Longfellow house, where Longfellow raised his children still sits proudly on Brattle street, next to Harvard University where Longfellow was a professor.

Emily Dickinson, the recluse of Amherst, haunts a few rooms that are still standing; when we think of Henry James, we immediately think of a pleasant drawing room in his beloved London, and William Carlos Williams: a home doctor’s office in rural Rutherford, New Jersey, an old wheel barrow glimpsed outside the window.

Wallace Stevens conjures up an insurance office in Hartford, Connecticut; Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, Paris; Pound, Italy.

T.S. Eliot?  There he is at Lloyds in London, speaking in hushed tones. Hart Crane?  He’s jumping off a ship into the north Atlantic. The Fugitive poets have Tennessee. Millay is identified with Maine, and Frost occupies a spot close to the Vermont/New Hampshire border. 

As we think of the minor poets in the 20th century, place becomes even more important: Charles Olson roams Gloucester, poetry schools are named after places: the New York School, the San Francisco Renaissance; Jack Kerouac may have written On The Road, but his place will always be Lowell, Massachusetts. 

Even the imaginative soul needs a place to haunt, needs a place that is home, a place that says I am here.

There is no American poet known, to any degree, by the public, who isn’t identified by a place.  Three-quarters of American poets attended Harvard, but where you went to college, or where you got your M.F.A is probably not going to make you beloved of the American public.

Walt Whitman is known as our national Bard because in his writing he ranges, vociferously, far and wide—his reputation is not tied to one place—if Whitman were strongly identified with Brooklyn, for instance, he’d be Walter Whitman, a very minor figure.

It is precisely because, in Whitman’s case, that he is not identified with Brooklyn that he enjoys the reputation he does, for, after all, Whitman’s output is minor—a dozen memorable lines, perhaps; three or four anthology pieces: “O Captain! My Captain!’ and excerpts from “Leaves of Grass,” a few other excerpts from longer poems—poems almost no one reads in their entirety, maybe one or two other short poems.  Whitman, the poet, has made it to the top of the heap precisely because he belongs to no one and belongs nowhere—thus he is the token American who resonates with orphic, orphan, lonesome qualities that define a frontier America in transition, a land almost too big for its people, but growing smaller in the human bustle, and Whitman is the representative of that past and that future.  A Whitman statue could be anywhere—one was just unveiled in Moscow by secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Once established, a writer’s place doesn’t change, but a famous writer, like a Walt Whitman, who has no place, can claim new territory.

There is one American writer who, more than any other, seems to have no real place of his own: Edgar Poe.

Poe rejects place, and has no place.  He said the writer ought to belong to the universe, not to any place on earth; he coined the phrase, “out of place, out of time;” he set his most ambitious tales in France; he rarely took the time to describe an American place; he did so only in little-read pieces of journalism, not in the works that made him famous; Poe remains classical and European in most people’s minds, not American. 

Poe has a abstract quality so powerful that it will drag almost any adolescent mind into its vortex—modern American poetry can almost be defined as one great, long escape from it.  Rejecting Poe has been a rite of passage for every American poet who has wanted to be taken seriously by his or her peers.  The anti-Poe club is not just a large one—it is modern poetry: “A poem should be melancholy? Ha ha ha ha!”

But who will have the last laugh? 

Poe’s tentacles are many.  He can reach you in so many ways. You bury his Philosophy of Composition deep in the ground.  That’s right, MFA student, bury it deep, deep…  Now run from his poetry as fast as you can. Be modern! Run, run, run… run faster, faster!  Have you traveled fast enough?  Can’t you run just a little bit faster?

Is this crazy, or what?  Poe is returning to Boston.

The celebrants of Poe’s recent 200th birthday celebration decided it would be fun to have a debate—which place is most Poe’s place: New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Richmond, or Boston?  Poe wrote The Raven in New York, his first detective story in Philadelphia, his childhood and early criticism in Richmond, the Poes are from Baltimore (as well as The Ravens football team), and Poe was born in Boston.

In an odd twist, thanks to the research and debating skills of professor Paul Lewis of Boston college, Boston, of all places, won the debate, and now through the efforts of the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston and the Boston Art Commission, Edgar Allan Poe will grace downtown Boston—near the frog pond, Poe’s mocking symbol for New England writers—in a large work of public art.  You can learn about the three finalists here.  Statues can be pompous and boring, but Boston Poe gets an added boost, because these look really interesting.

The statues of the Frog Pond authors must be shaking in their boots.

Professor Paul Lewis is a slender, dapper man with a twinkle in his eye.  Last week at the Boston Public Library unveiling of the three Poe finalist works, he pointed out that Poe’s mother—an actress at the Federal Theater near the Boston Common (now gone)—loved Boston and was loved here; Poe’s mother represents that side of Poe who pleases rather than instructs, soaring happily in a puritan place.  Professor Lewis brings to Poe studies a happy spirit of reconciliaton—he is no Harold Bloom saying, “You must love either Emerson or Poe.”

The proposed Poe public art works—two of the three works feature a life-sized Poe, one with a raven emerging from his trunk, the other with a shrouded female figure at his back—are so wonderful that we couldn’t help but ponder, out of pure fun, some other possibilities.

A statue of Poe on the ground, surrounded by bottles.

A statue of Poe on Emerson’s knee, being spanked.

A statue of Pound, giving a Nazi salute.

A statue of Whitman, naked, with a hard-on.

But enough.

A large-as-life Edgar Allan Poe in the middle of Boston is frightening enough.

Thank you, Boston Poe Foundation!

ESCAPE THE DARK IN THE DARK

Alice Cary: a world of American Letters that’s forgotten.

When T.S. Eliot wrote that poetry is “an escape from emotion” and an “escape from personality” in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” he was defining art under advice from Socrates—who banned from his Republic “poetry that feeds and waters the passions.”  Escape is the key word.  The Socratic hero has emotions, but keeps them under control.  The human-centered world of Shakespeare’s Renaissance—another inheritance of the urban Socrates—lives anew in Eliot’s formula: poetry, more than anything else, seeks original expression—in the context of all that has come before, and as Eliot points out, his human formula is not just “historical,” but “aesthetic.”  Eliot was the product of cousins marrying cousins on his father’s side—perhaps this aided “Tradition’s” insight: the ‘short-wired’ prophecy gathering vital threads into one. 

Poetry is not revolutionary, then, but an heroic demonstration of how human emotion is conquered, and so it earns its place in Plato’s Republic.  Plato and the poets are reconciled, as art is defined by T.S. Eliot—an American with roots in New England transendentalism: poetry as the natural impulse of raw and honest emotion, but converted momentarily to Poe’s cold science.

Just as the Republic’s “guardians” escape emotion, just as Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter escapes the homely passions of prose, just as Poe’s narrator calmly escapes “the pit and the “pendulum” in his famous story, so the following poem from a forgotten American woman poet of the 19th century, picked out for high praise by Edgar Poe, demonstrates that high art which Eliot in his most glorious essay was at pains to show—for just beneath the surface of this poem cries sorrow which is escaped.

Here emotion is not indulged; beauty is, even though the journey that is made is to the hades of emotion.

Pictures of Memory

Among the beautiful pictures
That hang on memory’s wall,
Is one of a dim old forest,
That seems the best of all:
Not for its gnarled oaks olden,
Dark with the mistletoe;
Nor for the violets golden
That sprinkle the vale below;
Nor for the great white lilies,
That lead from the fragrant hedge,
Whispering all day with the sunbeams,
And stealing their golden edge;
Not for the vines on the upland
Where the bright red berries rest,
Nor the pinks, nor the pale, sweet cowslip,
It seems to me the best.
I once had a little brother,
With eyes that were dark and deep—
In the lap of the old dim forest
He lies in peace asleep;
Light as the down of the thistle,
Free as the winds that blow,
We roved there the beautiful summers,
The summers of long ago;
But his feet on the hills grew weary,
And, one of the autumn eves,
I made for my little brother
A bed of the yellow leaves.
Sweetly his pale arms folded
My neck in a meek embrace,
As the light of immortal beauty
Silently covered his face:
And when the arrows of sunset
Lodged in the tree-tops bright,
He fell, in his saint-like beauty,
Asleep by the gates of light.
Therefore, of all the pictures
That hang on memory’s wall,
The one of the dim old forest
Seems the best of all.

Alice Cary (1820-1871)

The following poems, one by Guiterman, two by Teasdale, and one by Parker escape emotion as well, but they all succeed more superficially and self-consciously than Cary’s somber and beautiful masterpiece.

On the Vanity of Earthly Creatures

The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons, are billiard balls.

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust.

The grizzly bear whose potent hug
Was feared by all, is now a rug.

Great Caesar’s dead on the shelf,
And I don’t feel so well myself!

Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)

I Shall Not Care

When I am dead an over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Tho’ you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.

I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.

The Look

Strephon kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.

Strephon’s kiss was lost in jest,
Robin’s lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin’s eyes
Haunts me night and day.

—Sarah Teasdale  (1884-1933)

Bric-a-Brac

Little things that no one needs—
Little things to joke about—
Little landscapes, done in beads,
Little morals, woven out,
Little wreaths of gilded grass,
Little brigs of whittled oak
Bottled painfully in glass;
These are made by lonely folk.

Lonely folk have lines of days
Long and faltering and thin;
Therefore—little wax bouquets,
Prayers cut upon a pin,
Little maps of pinkish lands,
Little charts of curly seas,
Little plats of linen strands,
Little verses, such as these.

—Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

T.S. Eliot, before he became famous with his “Waste Land,” hit a homerun with perhaps his most important piece of writing: “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”  In poetry one must escape emotion, but one must have real emotion to escape from, first.  This has been the test of art since Plato made the rules over two milennia ago. T.S. Eliot, no matter what other ‘modernist’ credentials he may have, reminded us of this ancient truth once again.

Edna Millay sought this formula, too; read those harrowing sonnets of hers that strive for beauty and cold emotion.  Her poetry is practically “Tradition and the Individual Talent” personified.  As Plato writes in The Republic, Book X, “when we listen to a passage from Homer…he represents some pitiful hero who is drawing out his sorrows…but when any sorrow happens to us, you may observe that we pride ourselves on the opposite quality…”

IF I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual Way

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
That you were gone, not to return again—
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man—who happened to be you—
At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud—I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place—
I should but watch the station lights rush by
With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

CAT FIGHT! VENDLER GOES AFTER DOVE!

More Wallace Stevens!  Please!

Helen Vendler is obviously peeved Penguin Books chose Rita Dove over her to edit its big fat anthology of 20th century American  poetry (October 2011).

Vendler is so obviously upset in her NYRB review of the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry that she faults Dove for including too many poets.

175 poets is too many, Vendler scolds.  But professor Vendler, the book is 600 pages! 

“No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading,” Vendler sniffs.   

The two volume Library of America American Poetry-The Twentieth Century, just over 2,000 pages, features over 200 poets.  Is Vendler really prepared to name Library of America poets “not worth reading?”  The LOA anthology ends with May Swenson (b. 1913).  Just imagine, then, how many 20th century poets are “not worth reading!”

If we are really interested in the work of a major poet or two, there’s ample opportunity to attend that banquet; isn’t the point of an anthology the wide sweep?   Summarizing an age, including the famous poets and the famous poets of that age—surely this can be done by being inclusive, as well? 

Vendler begins her review of Dove in an odd way:

Twentieth-century American poetry has been one of the glories of modern literature. The most significant names and texts are known worldwide: T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Hart Crane, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop (and some would include Ezra Pound).

First, why does she say “has been one of the glories of modern literature?”  Why not say “is one of the glories of modern literature,” especially if she feels so strongly about it?  Secondly, why does she say “some would include Ezra Pound,” as if no other difference of opinion is permitted.  Some would include Edna St. Vincent Millay, wouldn’t they?  Or not Robert Lowell?  What was Lowell’s most famous poem, again?  Something about a skunk?  Or an aquarium?  But let’s not interrupt Vendler’s revery.

Next, Vendler speaks to the issue of the blacks:

Rita Dove, a recent poet laureate (1993–1995), has decided, in her new anthology of poetry of the past century, to shift the balance, introducing more black poets and giving them significant amounts of space, in some cases more space than is given to better-known authors. These writers are included in some cases for their representative themes rather than their style. Dove is at pains to include angry outbursts as well as artistically ambitious meditations.

But Vendler shouldn’t get so excited.  Increasing the number of poets is bound to increase the number of black poets.  And why do better-known authors need more space?  We don’t read anthologies to go deeply into a poet.  The better-known don’t always have a lot of material, anyway, and it would be a shame to leave out a wonderful poem in order to include a lesser effort by someone better-known. 

Richard Ellman, editor of the 1976 The New Oxford Book of American Verse, includes only 55 20th-century poets (in about the same amount of pages as Dove’s 175) which is more Vendler’s speed, with generous helpings of E.A. Robinson (“Luke Havergal?” Does anyone like “Luke Havergal?”), Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, WC Williams, Ezra Pound, H.D, Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, E.E. Cummings, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Theodore Roethke, Robert Lowell, A.R. Ammons, among others.  Ellman, the distinguished Oxford professor and prize-winning biographer of Yeats and Joyce, ends his 1076 page Oxford anthology with 9 poems by Imamu Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones).   So, you know, been there, done that.

Richard Ellman, the only man in the universe who seriously claimed to understand Finnegan’s Wake, includes no Edna Millay (or Elinor Wylie or Amy Lowell) in his anthology. 

No Edna Millay??

Scarriet has written of this previously: the Emerson/Pound/Eliot Modernist Men’s Club, and Ellman clearly belonged to it, as did Ellman’s friend and Oxford Book of American Verse predecessor, F.O. Matthiessen, professor at Harvard (when Ashbery, Bly and Creeley were there) who attempted to write Poe out of the American canon with his American RenaissanceVendler doesn’t care for Poe, either, and the Oxford anthology (with more Jones Very than Poe, and every poem Ralph Waldo Emerson ever wrote) is a great example of what an anthology of American poetry would look like from her—all we have to do is replace Baraka with Jorie Graham—and there you go.

This is the Vendler American Poetry Anthology plan: 31 poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 70 poems by Emily Dickinson, 33 poems by Frost, 26 poems by WC Williams, 18 poems by Robinson Jeffers, 23 poems by E.E. Cummings, 19 poems by Robert Lowell, and 265,000 poems by Wallace Stevens.

We’ll take Rita Dove and her 175 poets any day.

COLE SWENSEN’S LIPS ARE MOVING (BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND A THING SHE SAYS)

Cole Swensen Poetry Trading Card

Cole Swensen: learning sans philosophy

Our poetry blog rival John Gallaher has duly noted poet Cole Swensen’s new book of essays from U. Michigan Press, Noise That Stays Noise.

We follow in Gallaher’s footsteps.

Gallaher, on his blog, dutifully copies the following from Swensen’s title essay with tacit praise, but we—in the Scarriet spirit, running, as usual, against the po-biz grain—bring to the table some analysis of Ms. Swenson’s assumed wisdom.  Here is the Swensen Gallaher quoted:

Both novelty and redundancy have a place in our interpretation of the world around us. Complete novelty would give us a world like that of Oliver Sacks’s “man without memory,” for whom the world was incomprehensible and frightening; complete redundancy, on the other hand, would amount to the heat death of complete homogeneity.

The degree of nonunderstanding in a given piece changes from reader to reader and is often slight; the novel feeling it occasions is part of the pleasure of reading poetry and is the source of the simultaneous suspension and surprise that seems to bypass the cognitive faculties.

This process, which, borrowing a term from the biological sciences, I’m going to refer to as self-organization from noise, is particularly important in considering much recent American poetry, which often contains a lot of what many would consider noise.

Such an approach demands that we consider a literary text solely as an act of communication, as a completely quantifiable message passing through a channel from a sender to a receiver. Though this may strike some as cold, on the contrary, I think it is just such an approach that can elucidate the ways in which literature differs from mechanistic models of communication and can, unlike them, augment the quantifiable with irreducible qualities of human sensation and emotion.

Noise is most simply defined as any signal, interruption, or disturbance in the channel of communication that alters the quantity of quality of transmitted information.

[I]n a text, various idiosyncrasies from typographical errors to intentional ambiguities can also be considered noise if they too alter (or augment) the imparted information.

Information, in turn, can be defined in terms of the resolution of uncertainty.

[I]n literature . . . noise is not necessarily something to be suppressed, as it constitutes the potential for increasing the complexity of the system of which it is part.

Literary noise . . . is often not a degradation of the message; on the contrary, such noise is often intentional and aimed at preventing the suppression of imagination that complete certainty can cause. . . . This would include poeticity—the unquantifiable qualities of sound relationships, word associations, and innate rhythms—but also things that intentionally disrupt the smooth flow of information, such as fragmentation, unusual syntax, ambiguity, neologism, juxtaposition, alternative logics, graphic spacing, etc—in other words, any alteration to the basic linguistic code.

The way in which poets define noise strongly influences style . . . .

[T]he reader is crucial here . . .

–from Noise That Stays Noise by Cole Swensen

Swensen’s initial division between novelty and redundancy has philosophical force, but Swensen’s thinking quickly slides into that predictable modernist ploy: speaking in code to the initiated.  Noise is a metaphor for the horrible sort of poetry which the public hates; rather than defend this horrible sort of poetry directly, Swensen chooses to defend noise as  horrible poetry’s stand-in.  If we can just say enough interesting things about noise, Swensen thinks, we can satisfy ourselves that horrible poetry has a purpose.  This is exactly what Swensen is doing, and Gallaher knows it.  Well, this is how intellectuals deceive one other.

You read a poem. You can’t understand it.  You wonder why such things are given a pass.  Then you read,

noise is not necessarily something to be suppressed, as it constitutes the potential for increasing the complexity of the system of which it is part.

And then you nod, and go, I seeAs a reader, I have a responsibility to allow this noise to show me possibilities.

Swensen does understand that she better define what she means by noise, and so we get this:

This would include poeticity—the unquantifiable qualities of sound relationships, word associations, and innate rhythms—but also things that intentionally disrupt the smooth flow of information, such as fragmentation, unusual syntax, ambiguity, neologism, juxtaposition, alternative logics, graphic spacing, etc—in other words, any alteration to the basic linguistic code.

So time-honored strategies such as “juxtaposition” and “unusual syntax” and “neologism,” things which one might associate with the 16th century author, Shakespeare, are what she really means by “noise.”  In that case, “noise” might as well be anything, and it quickly becomes apparent that the term, “noise,” is merely code for the approval of play-pen modernism/post-modernism.

Swensen is practicing shoddy, incoherent criticism and it’s aimed precisely at folks like Gallaher, who are pre-determined not to question it.

As for Swensen’s redundancy/novelty construction, it is interesting how she says “complete novelty would give us a world like that of Oliver Sacks’s ‘man without memory,’ for whom the world was incomprehensible and frightening,” and then says of “nonunderstanding,” that the “novel feeling it occasions…is part of the pleasure of reading poetry.”  Redundancy, for Swenson, is the “heat death of complete homogeneity.”  But how do we go from “incomprehensible and frightening” to “pleasure?”  Is it because “reading poetry” is such a trivial act?  Or is she unwilling to follow through on her own declarations? Is Swenson unwilling to compare the nature of the mind, or the nature of reality, to poetry?

Is this just a sophistical tease?  I am going out on a limb here, and I’ll say yes, it is.  Swensen is practicing swine-like rhetoric.

Without really bothering to discuss the subject, “nonunderstanding” takes on magical powers for Swensen.

Swensen abandons the redundancy/novelty dichotomy at once.  Nothing further needs to be said about the “redundancy” side of the scale.  She’d rather discuss the “pleasures” and “surprises” of “noise.”

But isn’t redundancy largely how we experience reality, whether it’s the movement of the sun and planets in the universe, or all those repetitions that make the world comprehensible, and the sciences, the languages, and the arts, possible?   Is Swensen interested in how things work, or is she only looking to discourse on things she likes?

We might mention Shakespeare’s Sonnet #23 for an interesting treatise on noise, or Millay’s Sonnet, “If I Should Learn In Some Quite Casual Way” (the noise of the subway); and clarity would have no small part in the analysis of these works.  Certainly Swensen’s sophistry is not necessary to make the subject of ‘noise’ lively.

No wonder the creative mind’s ability to make great works of art has been eclipsed by academic dullness.  Swensen’s faint-hearted plays at rhetoric are now the rule.

A tip to Swensen: Learn from your (superior) ancestors, Plato of The Phaedrus, Shakespeare of the Sonnets. Though it drive you mad, strive to find the truth.

SCARRIET’S BEST POEMS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

New York City Times Square Black and White Photograph by Christopher Arndt

Here, in no particular order, are Scarriet’s best poems (in English) of the 20th century.

Obviously not definitive.  Just things we noticed.

Why these poems?

Because they hide from nothing, and all, on some level, break your heart.  Poe was right when he said poetry appeals to the heart and not the head.  Because many heads get this wrong, and think poetry is some kind of mental exercise, the universe has been turned upside-down for the last three-quarters of a century by a certain never-resting snobbery infesting perches in the taste-making branches of higher learning.  The poems on this list don’t get lost in minutiae,  have no interest in proving how smart, or intellectual, or street they are.  They all aim for that middle ground which has intercourse with the earthy and the abstract, filtering each, as they combine nature with nature to make art.

If art is what we do to become gods, if art is what we consciously do, we don’t see why art should express the suicidal, or make us miserable, or express the ugly, or the random.  Certainly melancholy approaching pain is allowed, but misery?

The usual coteries, which have slathered their cliquish influence over American Letters, are notably absent.   Our list reflects poetic talent, whether or not it happened, or happens, to reside within machinations of puffery. Some poets may be puffed, but not all the puffed are poets.

The Vanity of the Blue Girls -John Crowe Ransom
The People Next Door -Louis Simpson
litany  -Carolyn Creedon
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening  -Robert Frost
Recuerdo  -Edna Millay
When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone  -Galway Kinnell
Sailing To Byzantium  -William Yeats
Dirge Without Music  -Edna Millay
The Groundhog  -Richard Eberhart
Musee Des Beaux Arts  -W.H. Auden
Elegy for Jane  -Theodore Roethke
I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great  -Stephen Spender
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night  -Dylan Thomas
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  -T.S. Eliot
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner  -Randall Jarrell
In California During the Gulf War  -Denise Levertov
Wild Peaches  -Elinor Wylie
Moriturus  -Edna Millay
Whitsun Weddings  -Philip Larkin
A Subaltern’s Love Song  -John Betjeman
Aubade  -Philip Larkin
Patterns  -Amy Lowell
A Supermarket in California  -Allen Ginsberg
Her Kind  -Anne Sexton
Not Waving,  But Drowning  -Stevie Smith
i stopped writing poetry  -Bernard Welt
Dream On  -James Tate
Pipefitter’s Wife  -Dorianne Laux
On the Death of Friends In Childhood  -Donald Justice
Daddy  -Sylvia Plath
Resume’  -Dorothy Parker
Time Does Not Bring Relief  -Edna Millay
If I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual Way  -Edna Millay
Evening in the Sanitarium  -Louise Bogan
At Mornington  -Gwen Harwood
Those Sunday Mornings  -Robert Hayden
Psalm and Lament  -Donald Justice
The Ship of Death  -D.H. Lawrence
One Train May Hide Another  -Kenneth Koch
Encounter  -Czeslaw Milosz
Anthem For Doomed Youth  -Wilfred Owen
The Little Box  -Vasko Popa
For My Daughter  -Weldon Kees
The Golden Gate  -Vikram Seth
The Grass  -Carl Sandburg
Mending Wall  -Robert Frost
Peter Quince at the Clavier  -Wallace Stevens
The Fresh Start  -Anna Wickham
Bavarian Gentians  -D.H. Lawrence
River Roses  -D.H. Lawrence
The Hill  -Rupert Brooke
La Figlia Che Piange  -T.S. Eliot
“Not Marble nor the Gilded Monuments” -Archibald MacLeish
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why  -Edna Millay
What They Wanted  -Stephen Dunn
Down, Wanton, Down!  -Robert Graves
Cross  -Langston Hughes
As I Walked Out One Evening  -W.H. Auden
Love on the Farm  -D.H. Lawrence
Who’s Who  -W.H. Auden
The Waste Land  -T.S. Eliot
Snake  -D.H. Lawrence
At the Fishhouses  -Elizabeth Bishop
And Death Shall Have No Dominion  -Dylan Thomas
Reasons for Attendance  -Philip Larkin
Fern Hill  -Dylan Thomas
Distance From Loved Ones  -James Tate
The Hospital Window  -James Dickey
An Arundel Tomb  -Philip Larkin
My Father in the Night Commanding No  -Louis Simpson
I Know A Man  -Robert Creeley
High Windows  -Philip Larkin
The Explosion  -Philip Larkin
You Can Have It  -Philip Levine
Diving Into the Wreck  -Adrienne Rich
Pike  -Ted Hughes
Pleasure Bay  -Robert Pinsky
The Colonel  -Carolyn Forche
Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey  -Billy Collins
The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite  -William Kulik
The Year  -Janet Bowdan
How I Got That Name  -Marilyn Chin
Amphibious Crocodile  -John Crowe Ransom
The Mediterranean  -Allen Tate
To A Face In A Crowd  -Robert Penn Warren
Utterance  -Donald Davidson
The Ballad of Billie Potts  -Robert Penn Warren
Preludes  -T.S. Eliot
Sweeney among the Nightingales  -T.S. Eliot
Journey of the Magi  -T.S. Eliot
The Veiled Lady  -Maura Stanton
Prophecy  -Donald Hall
Archaic Torso of Apollo  -Rainer Maria Rilke
Of Poor B.B.  -Bertolt Brecht
Women  -Louise Bogan
Bored  –Margaret Atwood
A Happy Thought  -Franz Wright
The Idea of Ancestry -Etheridge Knight
Smiling Through  -Reed Whittemore
Histoire  -Harry Mathews
The Request  -Sharon Olds

MOORE, MOORE, MOORE, HOW DO YOU LIKE IT? HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?

The reptilian Miss Moore: I had a letter from Elizabeth
a day or two ago which I am thinking of having tattooed
on me—in which she tells of Mrs. Almeyda’s identifiying
certain little specks in a white bowl, as “Them’s lizard.”

THE SAD BALLAD OF EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

Eleven poets agreed to choose
Fifteen 20th century clippings sure to stay news—
And none picked Anne Sexton or Edna Millay.
But Moore and Bishop, they said, should stay.

Pay no attention to Edna Millay!
Richard Howard will explain: “She has to go away.”
Jorie Graham, with the Washington Post-connected name,
Thrilled by Howard’s acumen, feels exactly the same.

The fish gasp for air, but here comes Mark Strand,
Watery and handsome, takes Edna by the hand,
Leads her to a room where rock bands play,
Whispers, “No, we can’t have Edna St. Vincent Millay.”

Charles Simic concurs, balled-up in the dark:
“Miss Moore is my sparrow! Gertrude Stein is my lark!”
Donald Hall is a man, not afraid of the fray:
“I prefer Moore and Bishop to Edna Millay.”

We put up the curtains for Ashbery’s stay—
John doesn’t like St. Vincent Millay;
John prefers peas, sautéed, over rice,
After they are sprinkled with sugar, and diced.

“We have all the woman poets we need,”
Said John Hollander, indeed!
“We have Bishop, and that other one, Moore!
What the hell do we need Edna St. Vincent Millay for?”

Rita Dove’s lips! Lips of Dove!  They’ve been kissed.
And they speak: “I’m afraid Edna Millay will not be missed.”
You can ask James Tate, who chose James Wright
(“The Blessing”—worst poem ever) and Bishop! Good night.

Quick! Get the opinion of Robert Bly!
He chooses one woman: Moore. No lie.
Sure, Moore edited the clique-ish Dial,
Broke no hearts, wore a neat New Critical smile.

Moore was new, she knew…she made a friend,
And isn’t this what all this bother is, in the end?
David Lehman: “Remember, all these choices, finally, are mine!”
(He chose Bishop, Marianne Moore, and Gertrude Stein.)

Fashion makes us all alike—another day
These sheep will die inside for Edna Millay;
But feeling and passion escaped this list,
As every hard heart wears the label modernist.

Obviously this is milk already spilt—
The 20th century goes to Vanderbilt.
I’d be rich if I had a dollar
For every choice who won a Rhodes Scholar,
Or crept on the ground in the house of Pound.

For Edna Millay, VIDA will cry no tears,
Or abstract ones; but then, they’re all bad poets,
And care only about their careers.

SEXISM RAMPANT IN PO-BIZ

Well of course it is.

Here’s why.  

The Modernist revolution was mostly male, and in terms of criticism, overwhelmingly so.    We are still in the shadow of that revolution, which featured William James, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, I.F Richards, Ford Madox Ford, T.E. Hulme, Richard Aldington, Edmund Wilson, William Empson, Allen Tate, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Richard Blackmur, Robert Graves, W.S. Merwin, Yvor Winters, George Santayana, Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis, Robert Frost, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, John Crowe Ransom, E.E. Cummings, Paul Engle,Robert Penn Warren, W.K Wimsatt, Cleanth Brooks, Theodore Roethke, Delmore Schwartz, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Jack Spicer, Charles Olson, Hugh Kenner, M.L. Rosenthal, Robert Lowell, and Harold Bloom. 

This list is not just poets who happened to be men.   These men were not just poets; they shaped the critical outlook of our age. 

This outlook replaced the passions of the Romantic and Victorian heart with the mutterings of a priesthood, a male priesthood, thumping its chest about whatever the male talks about when he retires with his pals to smoke after dinner.  The male poets certainly didn’t agree about anything; this was no male conspiracy; they ranted and raved and chuckled and guffawed about the usual self-important male stuff, and the pomposity was almost sickening and terribly self-important: the Pounds and the Olsons hyperbolic and puffed up, the Ashberys and the O’Haras joking and sly, Thomas Eliot classical and aloof, D.H. Lawrence and Allen Ginsberg sexually vigorous, the New Critics, learned and doctrinaire, puffing on their pipes, it was all very male, 90%, even 95% male, with a few token females, H.D. and Marianne Moore enthusiastically following, just thrilled to belong to the club. 

And why should the women complain?  The general spirit of Modernism was more open and democratic than the Victorian mode had been; Edna Millay was a terrific poet, but she was a little too good in a Victorian, Romantic sort of way, so she wasn’t really allowed into the club, but in the long run, this was good for women, because Modernism, though it was run by males, really wasn’t about men lording it over women; the “parish of rich women” who bankrolled Yeats, Pound and Eliot were happy to give, and the women were right: even though women poets were far more plentiful and respected in the Victorian era than in the Modern one, eventually the general spirit of the Modern Age would prove beneficial to women.

Lady poets thrived in the 19th century, and when the lady poet was no more, a nadir was reached for women poets during the time Modernism vanquished Victorian manners: Modernist male poets and critics outnumbered Modernist female poets and critics in 1925 by 100 to 1, but today the ratio is now much closer to 50/50.

True, we find it shocking that poetry magazines feature men over women by 3-2, or 2-1 sometimes, but isn’t this better than 100-1?  If we judge by trends, historically the pendulum is swinging rapidly towards the female since the Golden Age of Modernism. 

Thanks to Modernism, men liberated women.

There were a few socio-cultural bumps along the way.  When WW II ended, the GI Bill saw millions of men newly studying liberal arts in the universities.   During the booming post-war economy women tended to be homemakers and nurses, not liberal arts college students, and as poetry became a place of grad school success, it took women a few generations to catch up in that regard.

But here’s the quesiton. 

Does the Muse care about gender? 

If all those males during the Modernist era were opening doors for women, setting the table for future women poets, even while Pound was at war with Amy Lowell and Hugh Kenner was dismissing Edna Millay, even though on the surface, male poets during the Modern era were not particularly nice to women, the sensibility of the Modern criticism and poetry, in its democratic and open impulses, was splendidly good for women.

So then: It’s not the gender of the poets that finally matters, it’s the poetry and the politics of the poetry itself.

When I hear males in po-biz now promising to include more women, I wonder: really?  Do the poems know about this?   Must the poems know the gender of their authors?   Should poems be gender-aware?  And why?  Isn’t that all very Victorian?

Should poets be bean-counters?

If twice as many men submit poems to a magazine, for instance, should editors really pick and choose just to make the numbers match up?

The Romantics, like the Moderns, were mostly male, but there was a difference.  The Romantics featured effeminate men, like Shelley, a blending of the male and the female.  One could argue that a sensitive man is better than either gender stereotypically itself. 

A sensitive man is the essence of poetry. 

A sensitive man solves everything. 

Equality of the sexes is something that is fought for outside of the poem.

The dyer’s hand is not gendered.  The poem is not male or female.  The poem is where male and female mingle in order to disappear.

Or, we could argue, instead, that women shouldn’t disappear in poetry, but assert themselves.  But how?  As women?  But again, isn’t that putting roles into the mix, and isn’t that old-fashioned and Victorian?  Isn’t that what Modernism got us away from?

It’s rather a lose-lose proposition: push for the female, and you regress, push for the genderless, and you banish the very gender you are supposed to defend.

I’m a man, and I’m baffled by the whole issue.

What else is new?

MORE OF THE POETRY GAME! READING X’S POETRY IS LIKE…

kids-reading-poetry

WALT WHITMAN

You’re 50.  It’s spring.  You’ve excused yourself from a wedding where you’ve rubbed shoulders and danced with everyone, all strangers, and as you stumble, intoxicated, into a lilac bush, you glimpse a couple kissing just before you black out.

LONGFELLOW

You’re 10.  It’s late summer.  You’re staring at a clean, straight, brick church and you feel a pleasant breeze as you start for the pond with your toy boat.

DICKINSON

You’re 30.  It’s winter.  You’re in a small bed-sitting room with door ajar, nibbling on crumb cake, reading an old romance.  It’s snowing outside and someone your age, who you don’t like, is approaching by a hidden staircase.

HART CRANE

You’re 40.  It’s early summer.  You know you left it somewhere, but where.  It has a long chain that dangles down and a wire that leads up.  You were in the basement cleaning the jars and you spilled a box of shells behind 3 chests piled up, and this reminds you that you have to return a phone call and get to your car, fast.

EDNA MILLAY

You’re 13.  It’s late spring.  You find a statue in a forest.  You circle round it, shading your eyes from the noon sun that slants through the trees.

ROBERT LOWELL

You’re 15.  It’s a warm fall evening.  You are lying on the floor in the family library, among pillows, nearly recovered from a fever, daydreaming over family portraits.

SCARRIET PRESENTS NATIONAL ‘POETRY BASEBALL’ MONTH

Hell, let’s play a whole season. 

Here are the teams.  They play in little bucolic ballparks.  No DH.

National League

Philadelphia Poe
New York Bryants
Hartford Greenleaf Whittiers
Cambridge Longfellows
Boston Lowells
Concord Emersons
Brooklyn Ashberys
New Jersey Ginsbergs
Tennessee Ransoms
Maine Millays

American League

Brooklyn Whitmans
New England Frost
London Eliots
Rapallo Pound
New Jersey Williams
Hartford Stevens
New York Moores
Cambridge Cummings
Amherst Emily
Iowa City Grahams

Baseball Poetry Commissioner: the honorable Harold Bloom
Player Union Rep:  Camille Paglia

There are still some hold-outs, most notably W.H. Auden from the Ashberys. 

Scouting Report Highlights:

NL

The brawling Philadelphia Poe features Lord Byron in the clean-up spot and Alexander Pope does mound duties as the ace of a pitching staff not afraid to throw inside.

The elegant New York  Bryants have Abraham Lincoln as their chief twirler and the slugging Thomas Cole hitting no. 4 in a highly distinguished lineup.

The Hartford Greenleaf Whittiers bring William Lloyd Garrison as their ace and Charles Dickens just signed up to play centerfield.

The Cambridge Longfellows have Washington Irving roaming center and Dante and Horace as mound aces.

The Boston Lowells field Mark Twain at short, Robert Browning in left, and Charles Eliot Norton and Leigh Hunt as their dominant hurlers.

Beware the Concord EmersonsWilliam James is their ace, Swedenborg bashes from the cleanup spot, and Thoreau tends centerfield.

The Brooklyn Ashberys have Frank O’Hara leading off and Andy Warhol is their ace.   Kenneth Koch and James Tate anchor the infield, while Charles Bernstein is in the bullpen.

The Ginsbergs of New Jersey have William Blake slugging from the No. 4 hole, Charles Bukowski and Bob Dylan as their double play combination and Mark Van Doren and William Burroughs on the mound.

The Tennessee Ransoms have Allen Tate at catcher and Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, I.A. Richards, and Paul Engle on the hill.

Rounding out the National League, we have the Maine Millays with Edmund Wilson and Philip Sidney pitching, with Sappho out in center.

AL

The Brooklyn Whitmans have Oscar Wilde and F.O. Matthiessen as no. 1 and no. 2 starters, with Lawrence Fernlinghetti, C.K. Williams and William Michael Rossetti providing up-the-middle defense at second, short, and center.

The New England Frost have William Wordsworth in the clean-up spot with Louis Untermeyer as their no. 1 hurler.

The London Eliots have Bertrand Russell and Lady Ottoline Morrell on the mound with Tristan Corbiere at first, Jules LaForgue at third, and Arthur Symons behind the plate.

The Rapallo Pound are stocked, with Benito Mussollini in right, Hugh Kenner on the mound and Ernest Fenollosa at shortstop.  Negotiations are continuing with Joyce, Yeats, and Duchamp.

The New Jersey Williams have Man Ray as their ace and Robert Creeley in the lead-off spot.  They also want Duchamp.

The Hartford Stevens have pitching depth with George Santayana, Helen Vendler, and  John Hollander.  James Merrill is in the clean-up spot.

The New York Moores have Elizabeth Bishop at the top of the lineup and Pater in the bullpen.  Ted Hughes is their big slugger.

The Cambridge Cummings have Picasso batting no. 3 and Scofield Thayer and T.E. Hulme anchoring the pitching staff.

The Amherst Emily has Thomas Wentworth Higginson as their pitching ace with Alfred Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Barrett in the outfield.

Finally, the Iowa City Grahams have Bin Ramke and Peter Sacks as key pitchers and James Galvin powering the middle of the lineup.

Stay tuned for complete team rosters.

We’ll give you updates during the season…every trade, every management dispute… individual stats, stat leaders, and team standings as the season progresses.

THE GREATEST STANZA OF ALL TIME IS…

The stanza is the aria of poetry.  If the line zings, the stanza sings.  The stanza is poetry’s true voice, where the poet displays not just melody, but harmony, as well.

The stanza presents not just an image, but an image moving into another.

The stanza is the line out for a spin on the racetrack.

The stanza is the line on the dance floor, the line proposing marriage.

The stanza is the beginning, the middle and the end of the meal.

If a line is a puff, the stanza is the whole cigarette.

If the line skitters, the stanza is the release, the fall, and the landing.

The stanza is the full-length portrait of Painting, the torso of Sculpture, the pillar, the room, of Architecture.

We like poets of the line.  We study poets of the poem.  We  worship poets of the stanza.

Lines can be dropped into letters or conversations or prose.  Stanzas raise the curtain on the muses.

Lines are bites.  Stanzas are plans.

The art of the stanza takes many forms.  It can beat a folk tune in 4/4 time:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

………………………………Andrew Marvell

Or, it can sound almost symphonic:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

……………………………………………………..Edgar Allan Poe

The most remarkable stanzas have a unique design, and are more than simply couplets joined together.

The line exists as a unit of sound/meaning.

The stanza, though it has more parts, and can be pedantically categorized (tercet, quatrain, ballad stanza, Ottava Rima, Spenserian, etc) exists independently as a unit of sound/meaning, as well.

We might say that the “free verse” revolution of the 20th century was not so much a joyous act of freedom as it was an anxious flight from the stanza.

The poetic line did not become important in a vacuum; the shackles were real, and those shackles?

The stanza.

The sociological explanation invariably ignores this, equating ‘old’ poetry with ‘old’ times and ‘new’ or ‘modern’ poetry with ‘new’ or ‘modern’ times.  But this is to push history aside for a vain celebration of the present.

The ‘modern’ poets were not celebrating the ‘modern,’ for the poems never know if they are ‘modern,’ or not.  The poems only know what they are as poems, in terms of line and stanza.

A poem can never say it is modern in a way that history will be convinced.

In the middle of the 19th century, with the rise of prose fiction and prose journalism, poetry was poised to improve on the stanza.   Poe’s ‘Raven’ was a sensation as music, with its unique stanza.   Poe was once accused of stealing his stanza-idea from Coleridge, but Poe said in his defense that the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s” stanza was different in 19 ways, and—we doubt that anyone is surprised—Poe listed every one.

Poe understood (oh that rascal understood everything) that with the rise of prose (Poe was leading the charge with short fiction, essay, prose poem, science fiction and detective fiction) poetry had only technique to save it and the stanza was the key to poetic technique.

Poe saw the tidal wave of prose coming.

Some modern poets pondered protection in houses of stanza and thought, “No way.  This tidal wave’s too big.”

Many modern poets built their poems on sand, and others, rather than be drowned by prose, tried to breathe in prose.

The poets turned into fish.

And drowned anyway.

Is it surprising that the poets most popular in the 20th century, such as Dylan Thomas, Millay, Frost, and Plath, were adept at the stanza?

Millay’s marvelous sonnets—what are these but stanzas?

Plath’s “Daddy” has one of the most original and interesting stanza schemes ever produced.

THE POEM OF MELANCHOLY HORROR

The 25 Most Terrifyingly Beautiful Edgar Allan Poe Illustrations |  CrimeReads

For the poem of melancholy horror to succeed, the reader must fall under its spell.

But just a tincture of the didactic and the effect is ruined.  Modern poets are especially prone to spoil this type of poem; they write of the horrible, but rarely combine horror with melancholy—which produces the sublime effect we have in mind.  The poem of melancholy horror peaked between 1800 and 1960.

American poetry in the last 20 years seems to be wholly absent of what we call melancholy horror.   We always seem to say, ‘That’s not melancholy, that’s depressing.’   We could assign this recent phenomenon to what we might term the scientific ego in the contemporary poet, a sort of clever hardness which will have no part of Victorian or Romantic sorrow.

Molly Peacock, Edith Sitwell, and Robert Lowell, to name some slightly older poets at random, have written poems of melancholy horror, but a determined busy-ness and verbosity, combined with a didactic intent, ensures failure.  Fred Seidel often gives us horror—and ego.  But there’s no melancholy, no shadow.

Part of the problem involves an acute misreading of Poe’s Heresy of the Didactic.  The issue is one of appearance: one must not appear to impart a moral or a lesson to the reader.

It is fine to impart a lesson; one just cannot seem to do so.

Poe made this quite explicit.

In terms of appearances, we all know that the best way to call attention to something is when we bungle the hiding of it.

This is what the modern poets do:  They know they cannot preach, but they cannot resist doing so, and because the moderns, in being good moderns, have chucked the stage devices of cheap, theatrical effects of the “old” poetry, and because the moderns suffer no hesitation in being frank and discursive in the above-board modern style, they tend to blurt out their lessons, which are poor lessons to begin with—since these moderns are not in the habit of really having anything to say, having been taught that the didactic should be avoided.

Pondering their Poe and the writings of the New Critics, with its ‘heresy of the paraphrase,’ the modern poets have come to think that one can write poetry while having nothing to say at all; if one cannot paraphrase their poem, they think, if their poem has no message or meaning, this is all the better, and perhaps, one day, they may even reach that ‘pure’ style of non-style all moderns affect,  and yet, given the modern style, in which melancholy surfaces and all sorts of cheap Victorian effects are to be eschewed, what remains is a kind of didacticism by default, sans lesson, sans moral, sans theme, just a kind of blathering that “wins” by avoiding the pitfalls Poe and the New Critics superficially laid out.

What Poe really meant—no one knows what the New Critics meant, since they never really thought the problem through—was this: The poet must not appear to be didactic; if the poet can impart a message without anyone noticing, good for the poet.  Thus a Wordsworth, who does have something to say, can succeed even in the face of Poe’s “heresy,” while a Robert Lowell, let’s say, stumbles, for Lowell imparts only the vaguest half-lessons, not because his lessons are well-hidden, but because he discursively bungles the HIDING ITSELF precisely because there is very little worth hiding in the first place.

If Lowell’s poem, “Mr. Edwards and the Spider,” for instance, were coherent in what it were ‘trying to say,’ the melancholy horror might work; but as it is, the poem is unfocused, flat, the transition from the stated theme to “as a small boy…” is clumsy; the poem has no emotional impact not because the theme lacks horror, but because the poet lacks wit.

Here, then are some of the best Lyric Poems of Melancholy Horror, certainly not meant to be definitive:

  1. Darkness  –Byron
  2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Dickinson
  3. Mariana –Tennyson
  4. Bluebeard  –Millay
  5. La Belle Dame Sans Merci  –Keats
  6. The Truth the Dead Know  –Sexton
  7. In the Waiting Room  –Bishop
  8. In Response To A Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, W.VA Has Been Condemned   –James Wright
  9. Pike  –Ted Hughes
  10. Strange Fits of Passion –Wordsworth
  11. Lady Lazarus   –Plath
  12. A Brown Girl Dead  –Countee Cullen
  13. Mental Traveler   –Blake
  14. O Where Are You Going?  –Auden
  15. Sweeney Among the Nightingales   –Eliot
  16. The Men’s Room In the College Chapel  –Snodgrass
  17. Alone  –Poe
  18. The Phantom-Wooer  –Beddoes
  19. My Last Duchess  –Browning
  20. The Tourist From Syracuse  –Donald Justice
  21. Rime of the Ancient Mariner  –Coleridge
  22. Advice To A Raven In Russia (1812) –Barlow d. 1812
  23. Blue-Beard’s Closet  –Rose Terry Cooke
  24. Death of The Hired Man  –Frost
  25. Second Coming  –Yeats
  26. In A Dark Time  –Roethke
  27. Piazza Piece  –Ransom
  28. Nerves   –Arthur Symons
  29. Hunchback in the Park  –Dylan Thomas
  30. Suspira   –Longfellow

BILLY COLLINS KISSES BILL KNOTT ON THE CHEEK ALONG WITH THOMAS BRADY

In the glory days of Harriet, back in the summer of 2009, the following exchange took place between one of our Scarriet editors, Thomas Brady, and the poet, Bill Knott.

“It’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.”  — Thomas Brady

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“Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!” —  Bill Knott

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Brady writes:

I don’t think the crisis in poetry is a social engineering issue.

It’s not a question of ‘how can we bring poetry to the people?’  Or, if this is the question, the question is not a large, complex one, but only a matter of refinement.

Despite the efforts of ground-breaking poet-academics like John Crowe Ransom (whose ashes are scattered on the Kenyon campus), there is no expertise anywhere that can decide how or what kind of poetry should be delivered up to ‘the people.’ I think we need to cure ourselves of this notion right away. Poetry is not for experts. Poetry is how the people short circuit the experts. Science demands a certain amount of expertise; poetry is the joy of science sans expertise.

The people get all the poetry they need from old poetry or pop songs or prose or opera, or comedy, and these avenues will never be supplemented by contemporary poetry of the difficult variety to any significant degree.

Contemporary poetry is mostly lyric poetry and this is in keeping with our ‘short attention span’ age—which began with the rise of the penny presses 200 years ago and coincided with Poe’s famous words, “A long poem does not exist.”  How could it?  No recordings of Poe reading exist, but we do have Edna Millay and Dylan Thomas: listen to them reading their brief poems—how could one take that intensity for long?

John (Harriet comment) asked about the first ‘lyric poetry reading.’  Poe in the 1840s was asked all the time at salons in NYC to read his “Raven.”  John is absolutely right; not only does a long poem not exist, but short poems should not be read for long; they should never be a big imposition.

Perhaps we need to stop apologizing for the ‘short attention span.’  What if it’s not a flaw at all, but a feature of our advanced, busy, speedy-communications age?

Instead of slamming that square peg into that round hole, why don’t we accept that ‘short attention spans’ are part of who we are now; simply a reflection of how we are adapting to our times, and if poetry is not popular, it’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.

POSTED BY THOMAS BRADY: ON ON JUNE 2, 2009 at 4:07 PM

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Knott’s response:

“It’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.”

–I agree totally with Brady’s point there.

But WHY do (we) poets do this?  Doesn’t the answer lie in the realm of the psychoanalytic…

Almost all writers begin in adolescence by writing poetry—what differentiates those who continue in this futile practice while others (call them adults) go on to write prose…

Given that poetry is the least rewarded/ the least funded of all the writing genres, and indeed of all the arts,

–knowing that, why would anyone willingly opt to pursue this abject vocation…why would anyone seek such inferior status; why would anyone in their right mind join this subgroup, this slaveclass—

Masochists, manic depressives, suicides, all poets are neurotics of the death instinct, losers and failures who embrace the misery of their wretched trade, who wallow in its servile aura of diminishment and squalor—its paltry practice.

But among poets, those dismal defeated schlemiels and corner-biting cowards lured by vile Virgils into the abyss of verse, a fortunate few manage to inhabit the upper circles, its higher hellblocks—

Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!—

What traitors these are to their class—(jeez, if they didn’t want to be failures, why did they become poets!)

No wonder all the normal (i.e. unsuccessful) poets hate the Judas Billy Collins and the quisling Mary Oliver

POSTED BY BILL KNOTT:ON JUNE 2, 2009 AT 5:10 PM

And did Martin Earl take this sitting down, and did Bill Knott not come back with post after post that broke every rule of length and frequency Travis Nichols had ever dreamt of, and did the fracas not wake everybody up and get all the bells in Parnassus ringing?

Oh yes, and yes, and yes!

Yet shortly after Thomas Brady and his friends were punished for writing too much too often, Bill Knott, Eileen Myles, Martin Earl, Annie Finch and all the other passionate irregulars stopped bothering, and despite the best efforts of the new Contributing Writers, Harriet stalled to a  Members Only Chat-roomlike it is.

What a failure of The Poetry Foundation mission!

The Scarriet Editors

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF U.S. POETRY: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

1650 Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America: By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts published in London.

1773 Phillis Wheatley, a slave, publishes Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

1791 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is published in Paris, in French.  Ben Franklin’s Autobiography appears in London, for the first time in English, two years later.   Had it been published in America, the Europeans would have laughed.  The American experiment isn’t going to last, anyway.

Franklin, the practical man, the scientist, and America’s true founding father, weighs in on poetry: it’s frivolous.

1794  Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey make plans to go to Pennsylvania in a communal living experiment, but their personalities clash and the plan is aborted.  Southey becomes British Poet Laureate twenty years later.

1803  William Blake, author of “America: A Prophecy” is accused of crying out “Damn the King!” in Sussex, England, narrowly escaping imprisonment for treason.

1815  George Ticknor, before becoming literature Chair at Harvard, travels to Europe for 4 years, spending 17 months in Germany.

1817  “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant appears in the North American Review.

1824  Byron dies in Greece.

1824  Lafayette, during tour of U.S, calls on Edgar Poe’s grandmother, revolutionary war veteran widow.

1832  Washington Irving edits London edition of William Cullen Bryant’s Poems to avoid politically offending British readers.

1835 Massachusetts senator and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier mobbed and stoned in Concord, New Hampshire.

1835  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow appointed Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard.

1836  Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes 500 copies of Divinity School Address anonymously.  He will not publish another book for 6 years.

1838  Poe’s translated work begins appearing in Russia.

1843  Transcendentalist, Unitarian minister, Harvard Divinity School student Christopher Pearse Cranch marries the sister of T.S. Eliot’s Unitarian grandfather; dedicates Poems to Emerson, published in The Dial, a magazine edited by Margaret Fuller and Emerson; frequent visitor to Brook Farm.  Cranch is more musical and sensuous than Emerson; even Poe can tolerate him; Cranch’s poem “Enosis” pre-figures Baudelaire’s “Correspondences.”

T.S. Eliot’s family is deeply rooted in New England Unitarianism and Transcendentalism through Cranch and Emerson’s connection to his grandfather, Harvard Divinity graduate, William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington U., St. Louis.

1845  Elizabeth Barrett writes Poe with news of “The Raven’s” popularity in England.  The poem appeared in a daily American newspaper and produced instant fame, though Poe’s reputation as a critic and leader of the Magazine Era was well-established.  During this period Poe coins “Heresy of the Didactic” and “A Long Poem Does Not Exist.”  In a review of Barrett’s 1840 volume of poems which led to Barrett’s fame before she met Robert Browning, Poe introduced his piece by saying he would not, as was typically done, review her work superficially because she was a woman.

1847  Ralph Waldo Emerson is in England, earning his living as an orator.

1848  Charles Baudelaire’s first translations of Poe appear in France.

1848  James Russell Lowell publishes “A Fable For Critics” anonymously.

1848 Female Poets of America, an anthology of poems by American women, is published by the powerful and influential anthologist, Rufus Griswold—who believes women naturally write a different kind of poetry.  Griswold’s earlier success, The Poets and Poetry of America (1842) contains 3 poems by Poe and 45 by Griswold’s friend, Charles Fenno Hoffman. In a review, Poe remarks that readers of anthologies buy them to see if they are in them.

1848  Poe publishes Eureka and the Rationale of Verse, exceptional works on the universe and verse.

1849 Edgar Poe is murdered in Baltimore; leading periodicals ignore strange circumstances of Poe’s death and one, Horace Greeley’s Tribune, hires Griswold (who signs his piece ‘Ludwig’) to take the occasion to attack the character of the poet.

1855 Griswold reviews Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and calls it a “mass of stupid filth.”  The hated Griswold, whose second “wife” was a man, also lets the world know in his review that Whitman is a homosexual.  Whitman later includes the Griswold review in one of his editions of Leaves.

1856  English Traits, extolling the English race and the English people, saying it was English “character” that vanquished India, is published in the U.S. and England, by poet and new age priest Ralph Waldo Emerson, as England waits for the inevitable Civil War to tear her rival, America, apart.

1859.  In a conversation with William Dean Howells, Emerson calls Hawthorne’s latest book “mush” and furiously calls Poe “the jingle man.”

1860  William Cullen Bryant introduces Abraham Lincoln at Cooper Union; the poet advises the new president on his cabinet selection.

1867  First collection of African American “Slave Songs” published.

1883  “The New Colossus” is composed by Emma Lazarus; engraved on the Statue of Liberty, 1903

1883  Poems of Passion by Ella Wheeler Wilcox rejected by publisher on grounds of immorality.

1888 “Casey at the Bat” published anonymously. The author, Ernest Thayer, does not become known as the author of the poem until 1909.

1890  Emily Dickinson’s posthumous book published by Mabel Todd and Thomas Higginson.  William Dean Howells gives it a good review, and it sells well.

1893  William James, Emerson’s godson, becomes Gertrude Stein’s influential professor at Harvard.

1897  Wallace Stevens enters Harvard, falling under the spell of William James, as well as George Santayana.

1904  Yone Noguchi publishes “Proposal to American Poets” as the Haiku and Imagism rage begins in the United States and Britain.

1910  John Crowe Ransom, Fugitive, Southern Agrarian, New Critic, takes a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University.

1910  John Lomax publishes “Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads.”

1912  Harriet Monroe founds Poetry magazine; in 1880s attended literary gatherings in New York with William Dean Howells and Richard Henry Stoddard (Poe biographer) and in 1890s met Whistler, Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Aubrey BeardsleyEzra Pound is Poetry’s London editor.

1913  American Imagist poet H.D. marries British Imagist poet Richard Aldington.

1914  Ezra Pound works as Yeats‘ secretary in Sussex, England.

1915  Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology published.  Masters was law partner of Clarence Darrow.

1917  Robert Frost begins teaching at Amherst College.

1920  “The Sacred Wood” by T.S. Eliot, banker, London.

1921  Margaret Anderson’s Little Review loses court case and is declared obscene for publishing a portion of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is banned in the United States.  Random House immediately tries to get the ban lifted in order to publish the work.

1922  T.S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” awarded The Dial Prize.

1922  D.H Lawrence and Frieda stay with Mabel Dodge in Taos, New Mexico.

1923  Edna St. Vincent Millay wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1923  William Butler Yeats wins Nobel Prize for Literature

1924  Robert Frost wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1924  Ford Madox Ford founds the Transatlantic Review.   Stays with Allen Tate and Robert Lowell in his lengthy sojourn to America.

1924  Marianne Moore wins The Dial Prize; becomes editor of The Dial the next year.

1924  James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children opens.

1925  E.E. Cummings wins The Dial Prize.

1926  Yaddo Artist Colony opens

1927  Walt Whitman biography wins Pulitzer Prize

1930  “I’ll Take My Stand” published by Fugitive/Southern Agrarians and future New Critics, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, Allan Tate defend ways of the Old South.

1932  Paul Engle wins Yale Younger Poet Prize, judged by member of John Crowe Ransom’s Fugitive circle.  Engle, a prolific fundraiser, builds the Iowa Workshop into a Program Writing Empire.

1933  T.S. Eliot delivers his speech on “free-thinking jews” at the University of Virginia.

1934  “Is Verse A Dying Technique?” published by Edmund Wilson.

1936  New Directions founded by Harvard sophomore James Laughlin.

1937  Robert Lowell camps out in Allen Tate’s yard.  Lowell has left Harvard to study with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College.

1938  First Edition of textbook Understanding Poetry by Fugitives Brooks and Warren, helps to canonize unread poets like Williams and Pound.

1938  Aldous Huxley moves to Hollywood.

1939  Allen Tate starts Writing Program at Princeton.

1939  W.H. Auden moves to the United States and earns living as college professor.

1940  Mark Van Doren is awarded Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1943  Ezra Pound indicted for treason by the United States government.

1946  Wallace Stegner founds Stanford Writing Program.  Yvor Winters will teach Pinsky, Haas, Hall and Gunn.

1948  Pete Seeger, nephew of WW I poet Alan Seeger (“I Have A Rendevous With Death”) forms The Weavers, the first singer-songwriter ‘band’ in the rock era.

1948  T.S. Eliot wins Nobel Prize

1949  T.S. Eliot attacks Poe in From Poe To Valery

1949  Ezra Pound is awarded the Bollingen Prize.  The poet Robert Hillyer protests and Congress resolves its Library will no longer fund the award.  Hillyer accuses Paul Melon, T.S. Eliot and New Critics of a fascist conspiracy.

1950  William Carlos Williams wins first National Book Award for Poetry

1950  Gwendolyn Brooks wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1951  John Crowe Ransom is awarded the Bollingen.

1953  Dylan Thomas dies in New York City.

1954  Theodore Roethke wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1957  Allen Tate is awarded the Bollingen.

1957  “Howl” by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg triumphs in obscenity trial as the judge finds book “socially redeeming;” wins publicity in Time & Life.

1957  New Poets of England and America, Donald Hall, Robert Pack, Louis Simspon, eds.

1959  Carl Sandburg wins Grammy for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

1959  M.L Rosenthal coins the term “Confessional Poetry” in The Nation as he pays homage to Robert Lowell.

1960  New American Poetry 1945-1960, Donald Allen, editor.

1961  Yvor Winters is awarded the Bollingen.

1961  Denise Levertov becomes poetry editor of The Nation.

1961  Louis Untermeyer appointed Poet Laureate Consultant In Poetry To the Library of Congress (1961-63)

1962  Sylvia Plath takes her own life in London.

1964  John Crowe Ransom wins The National Book Award for Selected Poems.

1964  Keats biography by Jackson Bate wins Pulitzer.

1965  Horace Gregory is awarded the Bollingen.  Gregory had attacked the poetic reputation of Edna Millay.

1967  Anne Sexton wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1968  Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, directed by Zeffirelli, nominated for Best Picture by Hollywood.

1971  The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner published.  Kenner, a friend of William F. Buckley, Jr., saved Pound’s reputation with this work; Kenner also savaged the reputation of Edna Millay.

1971  W.S Merwin wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1972  John Berryman jumps to his death off bridge near University of Minnesota.

Berryman, the most “Romantic” of the New Critics (he was educated by them) is considered by far the best Workshop teacher by many prize-winning poets he taught, such as Phil Levine, Snodgrass, and Don Justice.  Berryman’s classes in the 50’s were filled with future prize-winners, not because he and his students were great, but because his students were on the ground-floor of the Writing Program era, the early, heady days of pyramid scheme mania—characterized by Berryman’s imbalanced, poetry-is-everything personality.

1972  Frank O’Hara wins National Book Award for Collected Poems

1975  Gary Snyder wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1976  Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow’s novel on Delmore Schwartz, wins Pulitzer.

1978  Language magazine, Bernstein & Andrews, begins 4 year run.  Bernstein studied J.L Austin’s brand of ‘ordinary language philosophy’ at Harvard.

1980  Helen Vendler wins National Book Critics Circle Award

1981 Seamus Heaney becomes Harvard visiting professor.

1981  Derek Walcott founds Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University.

1981  Oscar Wilde biography by Ellman wins Pulitzer.

1982  Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems wins Pulitzer.

1984  Harold Bloom savagely attacks Poe in review of Poe’s Library of America works (2 vol) in New York Review of Books, repeating similar attacks by Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot.

1984  Marc Smith founds Slam Poetry in Chicago.

1984  Mary Oliver is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1986  Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, a novel in verse, is published.

1987  The movie “Barfly” depicts life of Charles Bukowski.

1988  David Lehman’s Best American Poetry Series debuts with John Ashbery as first guest editor.  The first words of the first poem (by A.R. Ammons) in the Series are: William James.

1991  “Can Poetry Matter?” by Dana Gioia is published in The Atlantic. According to the author, poetry has become an incestuous viper’s pit of academic hucksters.

1996  Jorie Graham wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1999  Peter Sacks wins Georgia Prize.

1999  Billy Collins signs 3-book, 6-figure deal with Random House.

2002  Ron Silliman’s Blog founded.

2002  Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club wins Pulitzer Prize.

2002  Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems published.

2004  Foetry.com founded by Alan Cordle. Shortly before his death, Robert Creeley defends his poetry colleagues on Foetry.com.

2004  Franz Wright wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005 Ted Kooser wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005  William Logan wins National Book Critics Circle Award

2006  Fulcrum No. 5 appears, featuring works of Landis Everson and his editor, Ben Mazer, also Eliot Weinberger, Glyn Maxwell, Joe Green, and Marjorie Perloff.

2007 Joan Houlihan dismisses Foetry.com as “losers” in a Poets & Writers letter. Defends the integrity of both Georgia and Tupelo, failing to mention Levine is her publisher and business partner.

2007  Paul Muldoon succeeds Alice Quinn as poetry editor of The New Yorker.

2008 Poets & Writers bans Thomas Brady and Christopher Woodman from its Forum. The Academy of American Poetry On-Line Editor, Robin Beth Schaer, is shortlisted for the Snowbound Series prize by Tupelo at the same time as Poets.org bans Christopher Woodman for mentioning the P&W letter as well.

2009  The Program Era by Mark McGurl, published by Harvard University Press

2009  Following the mass banning of Alan Cordle, Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman from Harriet, the blog of The Poetry Foundation, a rival poetry site is formed: Scarriet.

BELLES, BELLES, BELLES, BELLES, BELLES, BELLES, BELLES

Let’s examine women poets.

It’s not a happy prospect, because the woman poet has lost her way.

Since mothers sang lullabies, since divas rocked opera houses, since numerous women poets earned a living writing poetry in the 19th century, there has been a falling off.

Not since Edna Millay has there been a truly popular female poet, one who could fill an arena, make headlines, cause vibrations in the popular culture.

Why is this?

100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century, Mark Strand, editor, Norton, 2005,  is 14% women and 8% American women, Clampitt, Stone, Swenson, Bishop, Moore, H.D., Bogan, and Millay.   H.D. and Moore belonged to Pound’s clique; Moore mentored Bishop who was known also because of her association with Robert Lowell, Swenson worked for New Directions, Bogan, for the New Yorker, Clampitt regularly published in the New Yorker, Stone has been a creative writing teacher for years; Millay is the only one with independent force–and she was viciously attacked by Pound’s champion Hugh Kenner.  Millay had numerous lovers, including Edmund Wilson and George Dillon, Pulitzer Prize for poetry and Poetry magazine editor, but Millay didn’t give to get; she didn’t plot her fame; it came looking for her—because of who she was.  It seems hard to believe Millay is the only American woman poet of whom we can say this.

In David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series, which has existed for 20 years now, only one poet has enjoyed a kind of ‘must be included’ status, and that’s John Ashbery; Ammons until his death, was a close second, and now Billy Collins is almost in that positon, not to mention Richard Howard, Donald Hall, Charles Simic, James Tate, also John Hollander, James Merrill, Thom Gunn, Kenneth Koch, and Donald Justice, while they were alive.   No female poet is even close.   Jorie Graham, Louise Gluck, Rossana Warren, and Rita Dove have no impact beyond academia—nor even within it; for they have no unique  theoretical or rhetorical calling, and women who do, like Vendler or Perloff (pedants who champion men, mostly), are not poets.

When tiny enclaves of mostly male academic pedants decide what poetry should be, is it any wonder po-biz looks the way it does?

Modernist poets Ford Madox Ford and Pound worked for war machines (British, Axis Powers, respectively) and/or were bigotted misogynists like T.S. Eliot…”in the rooms the women come and go/talking of Michelangelo.”

Robert Frost wrote poems mostly of male work— “mending walls” and solo male journeys “stopping by woods” and “road[s] less traveled” —and Frost’s poetry was universally praised and celebrated even as the same sorts of poems by women were declared trivial and dismissed as mere Victorian rhymes.

Frost, (b. 1875) was allowed to continue this Victorian tradition as a hard-nosed Yankee male, to great applause.

Obviously this does not mean we have to reject the poetry of Eliot or Frost.   We mention this only to add perspective on the plight of women poets.

As Muriel Rukeyser (b. 1913) wrote in her poem, “Poem (I Lived In The First Century):”

“I lived in the first century of world wars./Most mornings I would be more or less insane,/The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,/The news would pour out of various devices/Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen./I would call my friends on other devices;/They would be more or less mad for similar reasons./Slowly I would get to pen and paper,/Make my poems for others unseen…”

Rukeyser’s helpless, prosaic, passive address is the voice of a woman in thrall to a technological universe of people who are “unseen;” her poem is flat and prosaic; she is unable to sing in a man’s war-like world.  That’s probably Ezra Pound’s “news” that “pour[s] out of various devices.”  The 20th century was a century of “world wars,” of women’s songs in retreat.

Rukeyser is not a victim in the poem; she is a victim for having to write this sort of poetry at all.

One thinks of Bishop’s poem, “In the Waiting Room” (which takes place in 1918)  in which two helpless females, the young Bishop and her aunt Consuelo—who “sings” from pain—exist in a world of “pith helmets” and naked, “horrifying,” breasts in a National Geographic magazine in the office of a male dentist who remains “unseen.”

Men and technology have conquered.  Women are separate from men, and women are confused and suffering.

The standard explanation for why 19th century women poets are no longer read is:

Women were confined to writing on flowery, “womanly” topics due to the sexism of a male-dominated society.  Therefore, women’s works are worthless to modern audiences.

But this is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It is not our intention to rewrite history, or tell women what sort of poetry they ought to write; we merely suggest that a popular tradition has been eclipsed by a narrow trope which has taken root and flourished without check, as trends have been known to do.  This unfortunate phenomenon is not less important because it affects poetry only—the issue is a large one even though the illness is marginal, the marginality having been caused by the illness itself.  It is with pride and certainty that poetry no longer pipes and swoons and sings but practices a kind of hit-and-run philosophy in whatever form and shape it pleases; but this pride has led to a great fall; poetry neither contributes to science nor pleases the many—it has no real existence.

Lydia Sigourney’s “The Bell of the Wreck,” Alice Cary’s “To Solitude,” Maria Gowen Brooks’ “Song,” Elizabeth Oakes Smith’s “Ode To Sappho,” Sarah Helen Whitman’s “To Edgar Allan Poe,” Harriet Monroe’s “Love Song,” Elinor Wylie’s “Beauty,” Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose,” Genevieve Taggard’s “For Eager Lovers,”  Louise Bogan’s “Women,” Sarah Teasdale’s “The Look,” Edith M. Thomas’ “Winter Sleep,” Rose Hawthorne Lathrop’s “A Song Before Grief,” Ellen Wheeler Wilcox’s “Individuality,” Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus,” Emma Enbury’s “Love Unsought,” Ina Donna Coolbrith’s “When The Grass Shall Cover Me,” Mary Maple Dodge’s “Now The Noisy Winds Are Still,” Mary Ashley Townsend’s “Virtuosa,” Frances Harper’s “A Double Standard,” Lucy Larcom’s “A Strip Of Blue,” Amy Lowell’s “Patterns,” Hazel Hall’s “White Branches,” and Anna Hempstead Branch’s “Grieve Not, Ladies” are the kind of strong and beautiful poems by women which are routinely ignored.

Overly sentimental this poetry may often be, but the women authors were not sentimental.  Enduring the hardships of an earlier day, they could hardly afford to be.  Virtues of rhythm, image, unity of effect, and expressiveness shouldn’t be rejected by literary historians for a defect (“sentimentality”) which is, if one looks at the matter objectively, merely  superficial and technical, really.

When a poet ‘plays a part,’ as if ‘on stage,’ for instance, the expressive style adopted should not be measured against a rhetorical style in which the poet is talking as herself, as if across a table from the reader.  Much of the “sentimentality” is due to this approach, this technique, and is not due to any defect or fault, per se, in the soul or sensibility of the 19th century women poet.

Here is one of my favorites from the poems listed above.   Note the simplicity of language, the sturdy rhythm, the confident music, and the plain but exquisite final image:

To Solitude

I am weary of the working,
Weary of the long day’s heat,
To thy comfortable bosom,
Wilt thou take me, spirit sweet?
.
Weary of the long, blind struggle
For a pathway bright and high,–
Weary of the dimly dying
Hopes that never quite all die.
.
Weary searching a bad cipher
For a good that must be meant;
Discontent with being weary,—
Weary with my discontent.
.
I am weary of the trusting
Where my trusts but torment prove;
Wilt thou keep faith with me?  wilt thou
Be my true and tender love?
.
I am weary drifting, driving
Like a helmless bark at sea;
Kindly, comfortable spirit,
Wilt thou give thyself to me?
.
Give thy birds to sing me sonnets?
Give thy winds my cheeks to kiss?
And thy mossy rocks to stand for
The memorials of our bliss?
.
I in reverence will hold thee,
Never vexed with jealous ills,
Though thy wild and wimpling waters
Wind about a thousand hills.

………………………………………...Alice Cary (1820–1871)

WHITHER THE FEMME FATALE POET?

Elinor Wylie.  Lyrical, with a dash of madness.

Where have they all gone?  Not only does the candle no longer burn at both ends, the one end is hardly flickering.

Great power for the poem, and for the woman, resides in the femme fatale poet.  What killed her, and why has she been allowed to die?

Even if the femme fatale is not the ideal state of things, it elicits a powerful interest in poetry.  Moral objections are moot, since femme fatales will exist and all the negative associations of that genre will exist, whether we want them to or not, and poetry’s involvement can mitigate the unfortunate aspects and also give to the world a heroic and social character for poetry which today it lacks.

In the 1920s, when school chums Pound, H.D., Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams, together with Harvard friends Scofield Thayer, E.E. Cummings and T.S. Eliot, bound together in their modernist ‘Little Magazine’ coterie, which gave itself Dial Magazine Awards, published in Poetry and tooted its tin manifesto horn, Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay were best-selling poets, continuing a tradition from the previous century–when the poetess out-sold the poet.

Before academic solipsism, women’s poetry reflected breast-heaving life: Osgood bitterly reproaching a gossip’s judgment on her friendship with Poe in the pages of the Broadway Journal, Dickinson dreaming of hot romances, Barrett thanking the wooer who snuck her out of her father’s house, Millay hotly turning a cold eye on past sexual flings.

The brittle, sexless poetry of Marianne Moore, the wan, affected imagism of H.D. put an end to the reign of Femme Fatale poetry.

The suicides of Plath and Sexton were sacrifices on the altar of  femme fatale poetry, a reminder of what had been crushed by Pound and Eliot’s modernism.

In Eliot’s wake, Bishop has emerged as the most important female poet of the 20th century, but she’s sexless in comparison to a poet like Millay.

Contemporary poets like Sharon Olds present a domestic, intricately examined sexuality, a far cry from the femme fatale; Jorie Graham had an early opportunity to be a femme fatale, but transformed herself into a foet instead.  Marilyn Chin embraced ethnicity. Mary Oliver has gone the ‘fatalistic love of nature’s creatures’ route.   No femme fatale there, either.

The forgotten Elinor Wylie (d. 1928) wrote wonderful poems.  In “Now Let No Charitable Hope,” one can hear distinctly the frightening yet delicate voice of both Plath and Sexton, the confident whisper of the femme fatale:

Now Let No Charitable Hope

Now let no charitable hope
Confuse my mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope:
I am by nature none of these.

I was, being human, born alone;
I am, being woman, hard beset;
I live by squeezing from a stone
What little nourishment I get.

In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile.

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