CAN POETRY APP SUCCESSFULLY CALCULATE MODERN POEMS AS PROFESSIONAL OR AMATEUR?

The Poetry Assessor claims to “determine whether a poem has the characteristics of a professional poem or, alternatively, an amateur poem.”

We at Scarriet decided to have some fun with it.

This poem, which Tom Graves, one of the Scarriet editors, wrote in 5 seconds for The Poetry Assessor scored a positive (professional) score of 2.814.

The Stuff Used

The stuff used to make amends
Cannot be relied upon so easily
When a fire in the pit flames up
With weed-like flames that penetrate
The blue and smoky air.
The semblances die along horizon’s pitch
Which gathers up the birds in its cloudy arms.

Tom Graves

“A Poison Tree” by William Blake scored a negative (amateur) score of -2.67.

Shelley’s famous “Lament” (O world! O life! O time!) received a negative (amateur) score of -3.27.

The whole idea of trying to determine whether Shelley was a “professional” or an “amateur” is simply ludicrous on the face of it.  Yes, Shelley was an “amateur,” and yet many “professionals” have determined Shelley’s poetry to be highly meritorious.  So how can we even begin to say whether Shelley’s poetry is “amateur” or “professional?”

And, what if the “professional,” Shelley, wishes to “let his hair down” and express himself in a more “amateur” manner?  Isn’t this still the work of a “professional?”

The answer, of course, is: yes, yes, it is.

We understand the idea that the Poetry Assessor considers “amateur” those who write poetry of a bygone time, so the excellence of the poetry is not being calcuated so much as contemporaneity, or, to be fair to the Poetry Assessor, excellence within that contemporaneity.  But can past excellence be jettisoned so easily?  If the acknowledged excellence of past poems does not register with the Poetry Assessor, where is the proof that the Poetry Assessor is not simply registering contemporaneity alone?

The answer is: there is no proof.

The interest of any exercise such as this must lie with how parts are integrated by the machinery of calculation; parts are paramount in any calculating process, parts which can never be quite integrated into the whole of a human judgment, and this is understood instinctively.  Further, the miscalculation of a single part’s worth or lack thereof can impact the whole more than it should, and such is how the whole often betrays partial thinking.

We can work backwards in any process which relies on the mechanical integration of parts for success.  In other words, we can make partial changes in poems and see how the Poetry Assessor reacts.

We took the Keats sonnet, “When I Have Fears” and improved its score merely by replacing the word “love” with random substitutions which hurt the overall meaning of the poem.

The Keats poem receives the following score from The Poetry Assessor:  -2.34    A thoroughly amateur poem (of course!)

Now, when we remove the word “love” in line 12 and line 14 in Keats’ poem, and replace it with a random word, “sofa,” the poem’s score improves to -1.55.

A similar thing happens with “Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell.  It receives a very low score: .056, but simply changing the first line from “I love to go out in late September” to “I go out in late September” the poem gets better: .493.

Professionals don’t love.

And if they do, we all know what they are!

This, however, should make us wonder: if the Poetry Assessor, with its contemporary ideas of poetry professionalism, thinks that the more love in poetry, the less professional it is, is the Poetry Assessor leaping to the conclusion that love in a poem is the same as sex in a poem?

Is the Poetry Assessor censoring love for moral reasons, or for professional reasons?

But we shouldn’t be wondering this. Our sort of reasoning is not allowed within professional circles, obviously.  The Poetry Assessor is merely censoring crude, vague feelings even as it rewards the virtue of concrete and specific imagery.  Right?

Galway Kinnell saying, “I love to go out…” is a perfect example of this.  If the poet describes his “going out” in terms that  makes the reader understand its enjoyment for the poet, saying “I love” is superfluous; it’s empty advertisement.

But what if Kinnell wants the assonance of “love” matching “go out…among…fat, over-ripe black…blackberries…”?

Or what if Kinnell wants his “love” to contrast with the darker material the poem gets into later on and the final hint of melancholy in “late September…” (which is how the poem ends)?

Since there is a near-infinite number of ways a poem can apply “love” to a near-infinite number of shades of meaning and sound-meaning, though it might be generally true that “love” as a word is very high on the ‘cliched/empty feeling’ scale, no mechanical assessor can judge a poem based on the generalized integration of generalized partialities.

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…

JORIE GRAHAM SHOCKER

Scarriet newswire:   GRAHAM UPSETS KINNELL IN FIRST ROUND

Galway Kinnell after the loss: “We compose the poem in a dream and the audience hears the poem in a dream.  What can we finally expect from a dream?” 

Kinnell had a big lead over Jorie Graham, but as the evening wore on, something happened.  The repeating phrase, “When one has lived a long time alone” somehow drifted away from the other lines in the poem.  It didn’t come together for Galway last night, reading the poem on a bare stage at the Kennedy Center.

It was a stunning win for Jorie Graham.  This changes the whole playoff picture.  The feeling is that anyone can win now.   The performance of “On Difficulty” was brilliant.  Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were low-key as Adam and Eve.  “It’s a brilliant poem,” said Helen Vendler afterwards, “it brings an extra dimensionality to poetry.  My head was lifted off my body when I first read it.”

The other top seeds prevailed in East play last night.   Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, Robert Pinsky, J.D. McClatchy, Harry Matthews, and Louise Gluck are all moving on.  Finally, the 9th seed, T. Allan Broughton, got past 8th seeded Marc Jafee.

GALWAY KINNELL V. THE WORLD

 

Galway Kinnell just wants to be left alone. 

Reporters have been knocking down his door to get some kind of reaction to the whole controversy attending his poem, “When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone,” which is slated to oppose Jorie Graham’s “On Difficulty”—with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie playing Adam and Eve for Graham’s poem—in the first round of Best American Poetry March Madness.

Kinnell is just going to read his poem, and most were feeling Graham’s strategy would backfire and lead to a humiliating defeat for “On Difficulty” and its Adam and Eve pageant.

But now Jolie has issued a statement:

“Brad and I are thrilled to participate in this event. We both love poetry. Yes, we’ll be naked. We feel it is an honor to use art to raise awareness. Adam and Eve were the first homeless people, you know.”

Here’s the passage from Graham’s poem, “On Difficulty,” that reporters are slobbering over:

If you asked them, where they first find the edges of each other’s
bodies, where
happiness resides
they’d look up through the gap
in the greenery you’re looking down through.
What they want to know—the icons silent in the shut church (to the left),
the distance silent in the view (to the right)—
is how to give themselves away,
which is why they look up now,
which is why they’ll touch each other (for your
looking),

With Brad and Angelina now being so seriously involved, those in Kinnell’s camp have new fears that, despite Kinnell being the no. 1 seed with his outstanding poem, he cannot possibly win.

Kinnell would not talk to reporters; he was clearly annoyed by all the attention, and to make them go away, he finally threw a scrap of paper at them.

This reporter made off with it, and now Scarriet is able to show the world Kinnell’s “reply” to the storm that’s raging. 

Kinnell did not sign this piece of paper, but we feel certain this is a genuine Galway Kinnell poem, and in a Scarriet exclusive, we present the puzzling work for the first time anywere, here:

by Galway Kinnell???

All She’s Thinking About Is Money 

When the pale sky spreads against the night at dawn,
All she’s thinking about is money.

When the heat of day begins to warm the rocks, money.

When the gray geese stir in the reeds, money.

When the brown beaver gnaws in the shadow, money.

When the red woodpecker awakens his meal, money.

When the yellow butterfly drowses on the green moss, money.

When the lake swoons into a deeper shade of blue at the beginning of the evening, money.

When night descends, bough by bough, through the pine, money.

When the moths mate in the dark,

I bring her some.

VENDLER GOES BALLISTIC

The Poetry March Madness Committee stayed here well into the night, in the first of many meetings.

It’s already started.

The Best American Poetry 2010 March Madness Tournament may be the most visible contest between major contemporary poets ever. 

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering is becoming intense, and poets’ emotions are running high.  It goes without saying that Scarriet will bring you every piece of delicious gossip and every rumor swirling around this unprecedented event. 

Helen Vendler is denying that she stormed out of a Poetry March Madness committee meeting when she learned that her friend, the poet Jorie Graham, was being placed as a lowly 16th seed in the East division of the tourney.

“I was very civil,” Vendler said.  

One March Madness committee member was heard to say, “Jorie’s BAP poems are dreary.   Half-breathless, half-insouciant magnification of desultory, cryptic observance in her now-famous sly, line-mangled, parenthetical parlance is just not a winning formula anymore.  Frankly, I find it tedious. What used to seem dignified and mysterious now seems self-important, almost school-girlish.”

“Jorie’s poetry is boring,” another member was overheard to say on the stairwell later that night, “she’s lucky to be in this tournament.”

What some people are saying is that it isn’t so much Graham’s rank that has Vendler upset, but the fact that Graham may have to face Galway Kinnell’s sonorous “When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone” in the first round, if that poem is chosen as the no. 1 seed in the East, as most feel it will.  Critics say Kinnell’s poem will be hard to beat, and no poet wants the embarrassment of an early exit from this single-elimination tourney.

The Graham entry has not yet surfaced, though most believe it will be “On Difficulty,” chosen by John Ashbery for the first volume back in 1988. 

“This is all speculation right now,” David Lehman, obviously ruffled by the incident, said after the meeting.   He admitted Vendler did exit the meeting abruptly, but would not comment further. “We want this to be fun, and good for poetry.  We don’t want this to become a battle of egos.  I have the greatest respect for Helen Vendler.  And no, I have no idea whether Ashbery will be a no.1 seed.”

Reached the following morning, Vendler was in good spirits and wished all the poets the best of luck.

A poet gets only one poem to fill one of those 64 seeds.  In other news, Billy Collins was sending out thousands of surveys to help him decide which one of his many BAP poems should enter the tourney and bring him a championship.  “I know Billy well,” a friend said, “and he really wants this bad.  He wants a No. 1 seed and he wants to go all the way.  He wants a title.  The BAP has been good to him and he’s been good to the BAP.”

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