HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

ANOTHER SCARY SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!

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

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

MASS POETRY FESTIVAL AT SALEM APRIL 20-22 (PART TWO)

Victoria Station in Salem, MA, where the Slam Poetry evening of the Festival took place.

We could not resist the Saturday morning panel entitled “Amy Lowell and Robert Frost Started It,” and so we went.

“It” turned out to be the New England Poetry Club—formerly the Harvard Poetry Society.

The first panelist to speak was a lady director of that venerable club, who read “Patterns” by Amy Lowell, the poet’s most anthologized piece, with its anti-war ending.  It’s a rather long poem, was not read particularly well, and most of us know this poem, anyway.  But it was read.  It is a good poem, and we enjoyed it.  The lady director also felt compelled to read Pound’s awful “Metro” poem—which works neither as haiku, nor as whatever lame substitute it’s attempting to be.  Accepting Pound’s wretched poem as some kind of significant marker begins the slippery slope in western poetry to inferiority masked as progress.  Every time someone praises that piece, a skylark dies, another Keats is killed, a star somewhere goes out.

The New England Poetry Club lady dispersed a few facts: the president of Harvard was Amy Lowell’s brother, and thus the Harvard Poetry Society was born—as an Imagist club, since Imagism appealed to Amy Lowell, (as did Orientalism to all the idle rich in those days.)   Lowell’s quarrel with Pound was skipped over, as was the contemporary haiku/orientalism rage which fed Imagism.

Fred Marchant, the second speaker, picked up on the anti-war theme and treated us to Conrad Aiken’s “Trenches: 1915,” an uncollected poem—too long—detailing the lengthy horrors of trench warfare.  Aiken’s father shot his mother and then shot himself when Aiken was a boy, right outside the poor lad’s bedroom, and this tragedy was used as a centerpiece in Marchant’s presentation of Aiken’s poem—which, it turned out, was imagined, because Aiken never fought in WW I.   Marchant rambled on about how Aiken knew T.S. Eliot; the Selective Service Act of 1917; yellow journalism—his presentation never came into focus.  Aiken, with Frost and Lowell, had been a co-founder of the Club.

Next up on the panel was the jolly, side-burned, X. J. Kennedy, who is best known for light verse, and he was a breath of fresh air, dispensing with all attempts to present The New England Poetry Club in some solemn anti-war light.  F.D. Reeve, (the father of the superman actor) who was Robert Frost’s translator on the latter’s trip to Moscow, was unfortunately unable to attend “They Started It” and Kennedy began by bemoaning this fact.  Then he joked that on the 100th anniversary of both the Titanic sinking and Fenway Park, that the Red Sox (who had been losing) and the Titanic were “both at the bottom.”  Kennedy reached for another anniversary: he had the New England Poetry Club officially at 97 years, but he figured it was about 100 years ago that the Club’s genesis began.

Kennedy’s focus was on Frost, who was “not a joiner,” but managed to be elected Vice-president of the Club in 1917 and President in 1919, without attending a meeting.  Frost, Kennedy, said, was “anti-clique,” and had little patience for Pound and his cliques; Frost preferred to “get outside the clique and appeal to the ordinary reader.”  A concept rather foreign to the pretentiousness of obscurantist modernist poetry.  Pound’s so-called Imagism was just an obvious rip-off of another culture’s then popular-in-the-west-movement: haiku and orientalism, generally.  Frost didn’t have to be part of some manufactured movement to make a name for himself. 

X.J. Kennedy, just by his voice and demeanor, was clearly the literary lion in the room; one could tell he was no lackey imposter, no myopic scholar, that poetry burned in his soul—if by nothing else, one could tell by the perfect timing he used in his jokey anecdotes: apparently at a Frost reading, an angry woman, wanting Frost to be a true legislator of humanity, asked Frost whether he really cared about rhyme and spondees and trochees and the various techniques of verse. Frost looked at the woman for a moment and then said, gruffly: “I revel in it!”

X. J. Kennedy was his own thesis—whatever he uttered was interesting, whether it was exclaiming about a great rhyme in a poem (“suffice” at the end of Frost’s “Fire and Ice”), listing the “witty poets of New England: Dickinson, Updike, John Holmes…” or quoting the poet and Harvard fundraiser, David McCord, “By and by,/God caught his eye” (“The Waiter”).  Kennedy joked that “The Waiter” was considered at times to be by ‘anonymous,’ the greatest tribute to a living poet.

When X.J. Kennedy tells anecdotes of some poet ‘not selling,’ it’s funny, not a tragedy.  The true spirit of poetry lights up this gentleman.

The irony of this presentation, finally, as it relates to the New England Poetry Club, was the simple attempt to play the anti-war card by the first two presenters: the original Harvard Poetry Society sprang from Imagism; Pound and T.E. Hulme and Richard Aldington and Ford Madox Ford’s Imagism clique in England was anything but anti-war.  Of course, these matters were well beyond the scope of the one-hour panel.  Modernism is not examined anymore—it’s become a white-washed backdrop.  We were just hoping for a little more insight from one of the few panels at the Poetry Festival which advertised some intellectual weight—and not just mindless cheerleading.

That night, at a local restaurant and bar, we caught the Slam Poetry presentation, and aside from the fact that poor acoustics made it impossible to hear some poets, we came away with the following observations;

1. As our 10 year old daughter remarked, “It sounds like comedy, not poetry.”

2. Slam poetry means every type of expression of bad taste and imaginative vulgarity is permissable: every metaphoric combination of nature, society, nerdiness, sex, and bodily function oozes forth from the egotistical show-off at the microphone, every rant and gripe, every filthy, adolescent boast, pours forth. 

3. The occasional example of wit and elegance is drowned out by the general tastelessness of the Slam.  The soul of poetry hasn’t got a chance.

As if American culture were not vulgar enough. 

The irony here is that poetry, divine poetry, exists to elevate the soul above vulgarity and bad taste; Slam Poetry is not only not poetry, it’s anti-poetry.  Slam Poetry hurts poetry; Slam Poetry is poetry whored out.

The Sunday afternoon Headline Reading featured Frank Bidart reading his long poem, “Ellen West,” which just happened to be his 2012 Scarriet March Madness Tournament entry.  “Ellen West” is based on a case study of a woman with an eating disorder who kills herself.  Bidart belongs to the academic scene, not the Slam, but it seems Slam taste rules academia more than many would like to admit.  What happens to the practice of an art when the line between vulgar interest and art no longer exists?

Also on Sunday, in the atrium of the Peabody Essex museum, we caught a presentation called “Bad Poetry Contest,” which was bad for many reasons, the chief being that so much bad poetry is called good these days that no one knows what “bad poetry” is anymore.  The author who hosted this travesty spent a great deal of time reading from his own published book—of his own bad poetry; a bad poet to begin with, he is marketing his own rejects—which seems to us very telling.

FRANK BIDART BATTLES ALICE OSWALD AS NORTH PLAY CONTINUES

Bidart has a long poem in Dove’s anthology and is favored to advance.  Was friends with Lowell and Bishop.

Frank Bidart writes poetry that feels like a different genre.  He violates THE POEM.   Or something like that.  He gets 11 pages in Dove’s anthology for his poem, the most of any poet in that anthology, which makes him the greatest poet of the 20th century.  Or something like that.  It’s really hard to talk about Frank Bidart.  His poetry is so intense.  Bring it, Frank.

ELLEN WEST
I love sweets,—
heaven
would be dying on a bed of vanilla ice cream …But my true self
is thin, all profileand effortless gestures, the sort of blond
elegant girl whose
body is the image of her soul.—My doctors tell me I must give up
this ideal;
but I
WILL NOT … cannot.Only to my husband I’m not simply a “case.”But he is a fool. He married
meat, and thought it was a wife..            .            .Why am I a girl?

I ask my doctors, and they tell me they
don’t know, that it is just “given.”

But it has such
implications—;
and sometimes,
I even feel like a girl.

.            .            .

Now, at the beginning of Ellen’s thirty-second year, her physical condition has deteriorated still further. Her use of laxatives increases beyond measure. Every evening she takes sixty to seventy tablets of a laxative, with the result that she suffers tortured vomiting at night and violent diarrhea by day, often accompanied by a weakness of the heart. She has thinned down to a skeleton, and weighs only 92 pounds.

.            .            .

About five years ago, I was in a restaurant,
eating alone
with a book. I was
not married, and often did that …

—I’d turn down
dinner invitations, so I could eat alone;

I’d allow myself two pieces of bread, with
butter, at the beginning, and three scoops of
vanilla ice cream, at the end,—

sitting there alone
with a book, both in the book
and out of it, waited on, idly
watching people,—

when an attractive young man
and woman, both elegantly dressed,
sat next to me.
She was beautiful—;

with sharp, clear features, a good
bone structure—;
if she took her make-up off
in front of you, rubbing cold cream
again and again across her skin, she still would be
beautiful—
more beautiful.

And he,—
I couldn’t remember when I had seen a man
so attractive. I didn’t know why. He was almost

a male version
of her,—

I had the sudden, mad notion that I
wanted to be his lover …

—Were they married?
were they lovers?

They didn’t wear wedding rings.

Their behavior was circumspect. They discussed
politics. They didn’t touch …

—How could I discover?

Then, when the first course
arrived, I noticed the way

each held his fork out for the other

to taste what he had ordered …

They did this
again and again, with pleased looks, indulgent
smiles, for each course,
more than once for each dish—;
much too much for just friends …

—Their behavior somehow sickened me;

the way each gladly
put the food the other had offered into his mouth—;

I knew what they were. I knew they slept together.

An immense depression came over me …

—I knew I could never
with such ease allow another to put food into my mouth:

happily myself put food into another’s mouth—;

I knew that to become a wife I would have to give up my ideal.

.            .            .

Even as a child,
I saw that the “natural” process of aging

is for one’s middle to thicken—
one’s skin to blotch;

as happened to my mother.
And her mother.
I loathed “Nature.”

At twelve, pancakes
became the most terrible thought there is …

I shall defeat “Nature.”

In the hospital, when they
weigh me, I wear weights secretly sewn into my belt.

.            .            .

January 16. The patient is allowed to eat in her room, but comes readily with her husband to afternoon coffee. Previously she had stoutly resisted this on the ground that she did not really eat but devoured like a wild animal. This she demonstrated with utmost realism…. Her physical examination showed nothing striking. Salivary glands are markedly enlarged on both sides.
January 21. Has been reading Faust again. In her diary, writes that art is the “mutual permeation” of the “world of the body” and the “world of the spirit” Says that her own poems are “hospital poems … weak—without skill or perseverance; only managing to beat their wings softly.”
February 8. Agitation, quickly subsided again. Has attached herself to an elegant, very thin female patient. Homo-erotic component strikingly evident.
February 15. Vexation, and torment. Says that her mind forces her always to think of eating. Feels herself degraded by this. Has entirely, for the first time in years, stopped writing poetry.

.            .            .

Callas is my favorite singer, but I’ve only
seen her once—;

I’ve never forgotten that night …

—It was in Tosca, she had long before
lost weight, her voice
had been, for years,
deteriorating, half itself …

When her career began, of course, she was fat,

enormous—; in the early photographs,
sometimes I almost don’t recognize her …

The voice too then was enormous—
healthy; robust; subtle; but capable of
crude effects, even vulgar,
almost out of
high spirits, too much health …

But soon she felt that she must lose weight,—
that all she was trying to express

was obliterated by her body,
buried in flesh—;
abruptly, within
four months, she lost at least sixty pounds …

—The gossip in Milan was that Callas
had swallowed a tapeworm.

But of course she hadn’t.

The tapeworm
was her soul

—How her soul, uncompromising,
insatiable,
must have loved eating the flesh from her bones,

revealing this extraordinarily
mercurial; fragile; masterly creature …

—But irresistibly, nothing
stopped there; the huge voice

also began to change: at first, it simply diminished
in volume, in size,
then the top notes became
shrill, unreliable—at last,
usually not there at all …

—No one knows why. Perhaps her mind,
ravenous, still insatiable, sensed

that to struggle with the shreds of a voice

must make her artistry subtler, more refined,
more capable of expressing humiliation,
rage, betrayal …

—Perhaps the opposite. Perhaps her spirit
loathed the unending struggle

to embody itself, to manifest itself, on a stage whose

mechanics, and suffocating customs,
seemed expressly designed to annihilate spirit …

—I know that in Tosca, in the second act,
when, humiliated, hounded by Scarpia,
she sang Vissi d’arte
—“I lived for art”—

and in torment, bewilderment, at the end she asks,
with a voice reaching
harrowingly for the notes,

“Art has repaid me LIKE THIS?”

I felt I was watching
autobiography—
an art; skill;
virtuosity

miles distant from the usual soprano’s
athleticism,—
the usual musician’s dream
of virtuosity without content …
—I wonder what she feels, now,
listening to her recordings.

For they have already, within a few years,
begun to date …

Whatever they express
they express through the style of a decade
and a half—;
a style she helped create …

—She must know that now
she probably would not do a trill in
exactly that way,—
that the whole sound, atmosphere,
dramaturgy of her recordings

have just slightly become those of the past …

—Is it bitter? Does her soul
tell her

that she was an idiot ever to think
anything
material wholly could satisfy? …

—Perhaps it says: The only way
to escape
the History of Styles

is not to have a body.

.            .            .

When I open my eyes in the morning, my great
mystery
stands before me …

—I know that I am intelligent; therefore

the inability not to fear food
day-and-night; this unending hunger
ten minutes after I have eaten …
a childish
dread of eating; hunger which can have no cause,—

half my mind says that all this
is demeaning

Bread
for days on end
drives all real thought from my brain …

—Then I think, No. The ideal of being thin

conceals the ideal
not to have a body—;
which is NOT trivial …

This wish seems now as much a “given” of my existence

as the intolerable
fact that I am dark-complexioned; big-boned;
and once weighed
one hundred and sixty-five pounds …

—But then I think, No. That’s too simple,—

without a body, who can
know himself at all?
Only by
acting; choosing; rejecting; have I
made myself—
discovered who and what Ellen can be …

—But then again I think, NO. This I is anterior
to name; gender; action;
fashion;
MATTER ITSELF,—

… trying to stop my hunger with FOOD
is like trying to appease thirst
with ink.

.            .            .

March 30. Result of the consultation: Both gentlemen agree completely with my prognosis and doubt any therapeutic usefulness of commitment even more emphatically than I. All three of us are agreed that it is not a case of obsessional neurosis and not one of manic-depressive psychosis, and that no definitely reliable therapy is possible. We therefore resolved to give in to the patient’s demand for discharge.

.            .            .

The train-ride yesterday
was far worse than I expected …

In our compartment
were ordinary people: a student;
a woman; her child;—

they had ordinary bodies, pleasant faces;
but I thought
I was surrounded by creatures

with the pathetic, desperate
desire to be not what they were:—

the student was short,
and carried his body as if forcing
it to be taller—;

the woman showed her gums when she smiled,
and often held her
hand up to hide them—;

the child
seemed to cry simply because it was
small; a dwarf, and helpless …

—I was hungry. I had insisted that my husband
not bring food …

After about thirty minutes, the woman
peeled an orange

to quiet the child. She put a section
into its mouth—;
immediately it spit it out.

The piece fell to the floor.

—She pushed it with her foot through the dirt
toward me
several inches.

My husband saw me staring
down at the piece …

—I didn’t move; how I wanted
to reach out,
and as if invisible

shove it in my mouth—;

my body
became rigid. As I stared at him,
I could see him staring

at me,—
then he looked at the student—; at the woman—; then
back to me …

I didn’t move.

—At last, he bent down, and
casually
threw it out the window.

He looked away.

—I got up to leave the compartment, then
saw his face,—

his eyes
were red;
and I saw

—I’m sure I saw—

disappointment.

.            .            .

On the third day of being home she is as if transformed. At breakfast she eats butter and sugar, at noon she eats so much that—for the first time in thirteen years!—she is satisfied by her food and gets really full. At afternoon coffee she eats chocolate creams and Easter eggs. She takes a walk with her husband, reads poems, listens to recordings, is in a positively festive mood, and all heaviness seems to have fallen away from her. She writes letters, the last one a letter to the fellow patient here to whom she had become so attached. In the evening she takes a lethal dose of poison, and on the following morning she is dead. “She looked as she had never looked in life—calm and happy and peaceful.”

.            .            .

Dearest.—I remember how
at eighteen,
on hikes with friends, when
they rested, sitting down to joke or talk,

I circled
around them, afraid to hike ahead alone,

yet afraid to rest
when I was not yet truly thin.

You and, yes, my husband,—
you and he

have by degrees drawn me within the circle;
forced me to sit down at last on the ground.

I am grateful.

But something in me refuses it.

—How eager I have been
to compromise, to kill this refuser,

but each compromise, each attempt
to poison an ideal
which often seemed to me sterile and unreal,

heightens my hunger.

I am crippled. I disappoint you.

Will you greet with anger, or
happiness,

the news which might well reach you
before this letter?

Your Ellen.

Bidart’s poem is based on a German doctor’s book published in the 1950s about his patient.  Bidart dramatizes the woman’s plight by speaking through her.  It reads very quickly.  We are interested in the situation and sympathize with the woman.  The ideas are clear and cogent.  We just find ourselves asking, “But where is the art, where is the poetry?” and feeling vaguely ashamed for doing so.
Alice Oswald is not in Dove’s 20th century American poetry anthology because she’s English.
We offer her poem simply called:
SONNET
I can’t sleep in case a few things you said
no longer apply. The matter’s endless,
but definitions alter what’s ahead
and you and words are like a hare and tortoise.
Aaaagh there’s no description — each a fractal
sectioned by silences, we have our own
skins to feel through and fall back through — awful
to make so much of something so unknown.
But even I — some shower-swift commitments
are all you’ll get; I mustn’t gauge or give
more than I take — which is a way to balance
between misprision and belief in love
both true and false, because I’m only just
short of a word to be the first to trust.

Oswald’s sonnet considers the doubts lovers commonly feel; “short of a word” is very nicely done.

Marla Muse: This is like Walt Whitman v. Thomas Hardy.  I don’t know how to size this one up.

It’s an offensive team vs. a defensive team, Marla.  Differences are never as great as they seem.

Marla Muse:  But Oswald and Bidart are doing such different things!

Not really.  They both are presenting women who have lost faith.  Whitman, who had faith, is actually much different than both of them.  What Bidart presents is harrowing: a detailed a record of an actual person’s profound insanity.  Oswald’s poem, too, records the painful trial of doubting love.

Marla Muse: Yes, I see what you are saying; there are regions of thought where many dare not to go—why should they?  It causes pain and suffering.  How much suffering—even in a poem—should one experience?  And how many people, or artists, do we trust to take us to the regions of suffering?

Not many.  Unless we are suffering so much ourselves that we are numb.

Oswald 55 Bidart 54

A nail-biter. Almost painful to watch.

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