YES! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!!!

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1. Vanessa Place —The High Creator does not create.

2. Kenneth Goldsmith —Death to the “creative” once and for all.

3. Simon Armitage —Best known for 9/11 poem, wins Oxford Poetry Professorship

4. A.E. Stallings —Lost the Oxford. World is still waiting for a good New Formalist poet.

5. John Ashbery —Doesn’t need to be good. Unlike New Formalists, his content and form agree.

6. Marjorie Perloff —Must confront this question: is the “non-creative” nearly racist by default?

7. Ron Silliman —Keeps tabs on the dying. Burned by the Avant Racism scandal.

8. Stephen Burt —Stephanie goes to Harvard.

9. Rita Dove —We asked her about Perloff; she laughed. No intellectual pretense.

10. Claudia Rankine —Social confrontation as life and death.

11. Juan Felipe Herrera —New U.S. Poet Laureate. MFA from Iowa. Farm workers’ son.

12. William Logan —“Shakespeare, Pope, Milton by fifth grade.” In the Times. He’s trying.

13. Patricia Lockwood —“Rape Joke” went Awl viral.

14. Lawrence Ferlinghetti —At 96, last living Beat.

15. Richard Wilbur —At 94, last living Old Formalist.

16. Don Share —Fuddy-duddy or cutting edge? It’s impossible to tell with Poetry.

17. Valerie Macon —Good poet. Hounded from NC Laureate job for lacking creds.

18. Helen Vendler —New book of essays a New Critical tour de force. Besotted with Ashbery and Graham.

19. Cathy Park Hong —Fighting the racist Avant Garde.

20. David Lehman —As the splintering continues, his BAP seems less and less important.

21. Billy Collins —His gentle historical satire is rhetoric nicely fitted to free verse.

22. David Orr —Common sense critic at the Times.

23. Frank Bidart —Student of Lowell and Bishop, worked with James Franco. Drama. Confessionalism.

24. Kevin Coval —Co-editor of Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.

25. Philip Nikolayev —Globe-trotting translator, editor, poet.

26. Ben Mazer —Neo-Romantic. Has advanced past Hart Crane.

27. Amy KingHates mansplaining. 

28. Sharon Olds —Best living female poet?

29. Louise Gluck —Her stock is quietly rising.

30. Jorie Graham —Her Collected has landed.

31. George Bilgere —If you like Billy Collins…and what’s wrong with that?

32. Garrison Keillor —Is he retiring?

33. Kent Johnson —Is his Prize List so quickly forgotten?

34. David Biespiel —One of the villagers trying to chase Conceptualism out of town.

35. Carol Ann Duffy —The “real” Poet Laureate—she’s Brih-ish.

36. Cate Marvin —Poet who leads the VIDA hordes.

37. Lyn Hejinian —The best Language Poet?

38. Dan ChiassonNew Yorker house critic.

39. Michael Robbins —As with Logan, we vastly prefer the criticism to the poetry.

40. Joe Green —His Selected, The Loneliest Ranger, has been recently published.

41. Harold Bloom —The canonizer.

42. Dana Gioia —The best of New Formalism.

43. Seth Abramson —Meta-Modernism. That dog won’t hunt.

44. Henry Gould —Better at responding than asserting; reflecting the present state of Criticism today.

45. W.S. Merwin —Knew Robert Graves—who recommended mushroom eating (yea, that kind of mushroom) as Oxford Poetry Professor in the 60s.

46. Marilyn Chin —Passionate lyricist of “How I Got That Name.”

47. Anne Carson —“The Glass Essay” is a confessional heartbreak.

48. Terrence Hayes —Already a BAP editor.

49. Timothy Steele —Another New Formalist excellent in theorizing—but too fastidious as a poet.

50. Natasha Trethewey —Was recently U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms.

51. Tony Hoagland —Hasn’t been heard from too much since his tennis poem controversy.

52. Camille Paglia —Aesthetically, she’s too close to Harold Bloom and the New Critics.

53. William Kulik —Kind of the Baudelaire plus Hemingway of American poetry. Interesting, huh?

54. Mary Oliver —Always makes this list, and we always mumble something about “Nature.”

55. Robert Pinsky —He mentored VIDA’s Erin Belieu.

56. Alan Cordle —We will never forget how Foetry.com changed the game.

57. Cole Swensen –A difficult poet’s difficult poet.

58. Charles Bernstein —One day Language Poetry will be seen for what it is: just another clique joking around.

59. Charles Wright —Pulitzer in ’98, Poet Laureate in ’14.

60. Paul Muldoon New Yorker Nights

61. Geoffrey Hill —The very, very difficult school.

62. Derek Walcott —Our time’s Homer?

63. Janet Holmes —Program Era exemplar.

64. Matthew Dickman —The youth get old. Turning 40.

65. Kay Ryan —Are her titles—“A Ball Rolls On A Point”—better than her poems?

66. Laura Kasischke —The aesthetic equivalent of Robert Penn Warren?

67. Nikki Finney —NAACP Image Award

68. Louis Jenkins —His book of poems, Nice Fish, is a play at the American Repertory Theater this winter.

69. Kevin Young —A Stenger Fellow who studied with Brock-Broido and Heaney at Harvard

70. Timothy Donnelly —His Cloud Corporation made a big splash.

71. Heather McHugh —Her 2007 BAP guest editor volume is one of the best.

72. D.A. Powell —Stephen Burt claims he is original and accessible to an extraordinary degree.

73. Eileen Myles —We met her on the now-defunct Blog Harriet Public Form.

74. Richard Howard —Pulitzer-winning essayist, critic, translator and poet

75. Robert Hass —U.S. Poet Laureate in the 90s, a translator of haiku and Milosz.

76. Rae Armantrout —Emily Dickinson of the Avant Garde?

77. Peter Gizzi —His Selected, In Defense of Nothing, came out last year.

78. Fanny Howe —Is it wrong to think everything is sacred? An avant-garde Catholic.

79. Robert Archambeau —His blog is Samizdat. Rhymes with Scarriet.

80. X.J. Kennedy —Keeping the spirit of Frost alive.

81. Robert PolitoPoetry man.

82. David Ferry —Classical poetry translator.

83. Mark Doty —A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

84. Al Filreis  —Co-founder of PennSound

85. Frederick Seidel —Has been known to rhyme malevolence with benevolence.

86. Sherman Alexie —Is taught in high school. We wonder how many on this list are?

87. Marie Howe —Margaret Atwood selected her first book for a prize.

88. Carol Muske-Dukes —In recent Paris Review interview decried cutting and pasting of “Unoriginal Genius.”

89. Martha Ronk —In the American Hybrid anthology from Norton.

90. Juliana Spahr —Has a PhD from SUNY Buffalo. Hates “capitalism.”

91. Patricia Smith —Four-time winner of the National Poetry Slam.

92. Dean Young —His New & Selected, Bender, was published in 2012.

93. Jennifer Knox —Colloquial and brash.

94. Alicia Ostriker —“When I write a poem, I am crawling into the dark.”

95. Yusef Komunyakaa —Known for his Vietnam poems.

96. Stephen Dunn —His latest work is Lines of Defense: Poems.

97. Thomas Sayer Ellis —Poet and photographer.

98. Carolyn Forche —Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University.

99. Margaret Atwood —Poet, novelist, and environmental activist.

100. Forrest Gander —The Trace is his latest.

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET’S HOT 100— AS WE RING OUT A WILD 2014!

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Olé, Olena!  No. 4 on the Scarriet Hot 100

1. Claudia Rankine –Seems everyone wanted her to win the National Book Award

2. Louise Gluck –Won the National Book Award. Coming into focus as morbid lyricist

3. Dan Chiasson –Coveted reviewing perch in the glossy pages of the New Yorker

4. Olena K. Davis –Praised by #3 for “Do you know how many men would paykilldie/for me to suck their cock? fuck

5. Terrance Hayes –2014 Best American Poetry Editor for David Lehman’s annual series (since 1988)

6. Patricia Lockwood –Her book, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals made NY Times most notable 2014 book list

7. Rita Dove What was all that fuss about her anthology, again?

8. Henri Cole —Poetry editor part of mass resignation at New Republic

9. Valerie Macon –appointed laureate of North Carolina, resigned due to firestorm because she lacked credentials

10. Helen Vendler –Contributing editor in TNR’s mass exodus

11. Glyn Maxwell –British poet and editor of The Poetry Of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

12. James Booth –author of Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love

13. Afaa Michael Weaver  –this spring won the Kingsley Tufts Award: $100,000 dollars

14. Frederick Seidel –Stirred outrage with a strange poem about Ferguson.

15. Clive James –Got into some controversy about racism and sex reviewing Booth’s book on Philip Larkin in the Times

16. William Logan –The honest reviewer is the best critic.

17. Ron Silliman –Elegy & Video-Cut-and-Paste Blog

18. John Ashbery –Perennial BAP poet

19. Cathy Park Hong –Wrote “Fuck the Avant-garde” before Brown/Garner protests: Hong says poetry avant-garde is racist.

20. Philip Nikolayev –Poet, translator, Fulcrum editor, currently touring India as beloved U.S. poetry guest

21. Marilyn Chin –Poet, translator, new book from Norton, currently touring Asia as beloved U.S. poetry guest

22. Daniel Borzutzky –Guest blogger on Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet: “We live in an occupied racist police state”

23. Ben Mazer –Brings out Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom—as po-biz churns with racial indignation

24. Nathaniel Mackey –Headlined poetry reading at Miami Book Fair International.

25. Marjorie Perloff  —Now we get it: the avant-garde is conservative

26. Amy Berkowitz –Wrote on VIDA Web page how everyone has been raped and how we can be safe.

27. Yelena Gluzman –Ugly Duckling editor publishes vol. 3 of annual document of performance practice, Emergency Index

28. Carol Ann Duffy –British poet laureate gave riveting reading in Mass Poetry festival (Salem, MA) this spring

29. P.J. Harvey –Rocker to publish book of poems in 2015—Good luck.  Rock is easier.

30. Christian Nagler –poet in Adjunct Action: “SF Art Institute: faculty are 80% adjunct and have no say in the functioning of the institution”

31. Major Jackson –Wins $25,000 NEA grant.

32. Divya Victor –Her book, Things To Do With Your Mouth, wins CA Conrad’s Sexiest Poetry Award.

33. Kenny Goldsmith  —wears a two-million-ton crown

34. Donald Hall –new book, Essays After Eighty

35. Mary Oliver –new book, Blue Horses: Poems

36. Charles Wright –2015’s U.S. Poet Laureate

37. Stephen Burt –Harvard critic looking for funny stuff other than Flarf and Conceptualism.

38. Vijay Seshadri –2014 Pulitzer in Poetry

39. Ron Smith –The new poet laureate of the great state of Virginia!  North Carolina still waits…

40. Sherman Alexie –the first poet in BAP 2014. It used to be Ammons.

41. Erin Belieu  –Hilarious poem spoofing Seamus Heaney in her new book, Slant Six

42. Robert Pinsky  –has influence, authority and a lisp

43. Billy Collins –Becoming critically irrelevant?

44. Adam Kirsch –Senior Editor and poetry critic, also saying goodbye to TNR

45. Cornelius Eady  –co-founded Cave Canem.

46. Anne Carson –One of those poets one is supposed to like because they’re a little deeper than you…

47. Lucie Brock-Broido  –Emily Dickinson refuses to be channeled

48. Tony Hoagland  –still smarting from that tennis poem

49. Bob Hicok –He’s the new Phil Levine, maybe?

50. Yusef Komunyakaa –Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993

51. Eileen Myles –Just published a novel about her younger days

52. Sharon Olds  –still glowing from her 2013 Pulitzer win, the book showcasing her exploded marriage

53. D.A. Powell –Studied with Vendler at Harvard

54. Cate Marvin –In BAP 2014 and on fire with p.c indignation.

55. Dean Young  –wants to be the best poet ever—in a late 70s Iowa Workshop sort of way

56. Chris HughesTNR owner: “Despite what has been suggested, the vast majority of our staff remain…excited to build a sustainable and strong New Republic that can endure.”

57. Alan Cordle –changed poetry forever with his Foetry.com

58. George Bilgere  –patiently enduring the Collins comparisons

59. William Kulik –the ‘let it all hang out’ prose poem

60. Amy King –Northern Lesbo Elitist

61. Leah Finnegan –Wrote in Gawker of TNR: “White Men Wrong White Man Placed in Charge of White-Man Magazine.”

62. Jorie Graham –Get ready!  Her Collected is coming!

63. David Kirby –“The Kirb” teaches in Florida; a less controversial Hoagland?

64. Don Share –edits the little magazine that prints lousy poetry and has a perfunctory, cut-and-paste blog

65. Paul Lewis –BC prof leading Poe Revisionism movement

66. Robert Montes –His I Don’t Know Do You made NPR’s 2014 book list

67. Cameron Conaway –“beautifully realized and scientifically sound lyrics” which “calls attention to a disease that kills over 627,000 people a year” is how NPR describes Malaria, Poems 

68. Charles Bernstein –He won. Official Verse Culture is dead. (Now only those as smart as Bernstein read poetry)

69. Richard Howard –Did you know his prose poems have been set to music?

70. Harold Bloom  –He has much to say.

71. Camille Paglia  –Still trying to fuse politics and art; almost did it with Sexual Personae

72. Vanessa Place –This conceptualist recently participated in a panel.

73. Michael Bazzett  —You Must Remember This: Poems “a promising first book” says the New Criterion

74. Matthea HarveyIf the Tabloids Are True What Are You? recommended by Poets.Org

75. Peter Gizzi –His Selected Poems published in 2014

76. Mark Bibbins –Poets.Org likes his latest book of poems

77. Les Murray –New Selected Poems is out from FSG

78. Michael Robbins –writes for the Chicago Tribune

79. Stephen Dunn –The Billy Collins school—Lines of Defense is his latest book

80. Robin BeckerTiger Heron—latest book from this poet of the Mary Oliver school

81. Cathy Linh CheSplit is her debut collection; trauma in Vietnam and America

82. John Gallaher –Saw a need to publish Michael Benedikt’s Selected Poems

83. Jennifer Moxley  –Panelist at the Miami Book Fair International

84. Bob Dylan –Is he really going to win the Nobel Prize?

85. Ann Lauterbach  –Discusses her favorite photographs in the winter Paris Review

86. Fanny Howe –Read with Rankine at Miami Book Fair

87. Hannah Gamble –In December Poetry

88. Marianne BoruchCadaver, Speak is called a Poets.Org Standout Book

89. Anthony Madrid  –His new book is called I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say

90. Robyn SchiffRevolver is not only a Beatles album.

91. Ted GreenwaldA Mammal of Style with Kit Robinson

92. Rachel ZuckerThe Pedestrians is out

93. Dorothea LaskyRome is her fourth book

94. Allan PetersonPrecarious is the new book: “the weed field had been/readying its many damp handkerchiefs/all along.”

95. Adrienne Raphel –“lavender first and by far”

96. Gillian ConoleyPeace is chosen as a Poets.Org Standout Book

97. Barbara Hamby  –“The Kirb” needs to know. She’s not on the list because of him.

98. Katia Kopovich –She coedits Fulcrum with husband Nikolayev.

99. Doc Luben –“14 lines from love letters or suicide notes” a slam poem viewed a lot on YouTube

100. Tracy K. Smith  2012 Pulitzer in Poetry for Life On Mars

ANIS!! LEFT-WING HUFF POST CRITIC OF THE TWITTER AGE

Anis Shivani might be a bitter guy, but as a literary critic at the Huffington Post  he exemplifies the sort of high-brow hating which pleases like a good nerdy fuck.

Let’s say this much of criticism which pummels its subjects: it will always be closer to the truth. 

Think about your own life.  Really knowing your friends, your lovers, your spouses, your places of unemployment, are you not palpably aware of numerous flaws, faults, stupidities, culpabilities and insanities, and isn’t your intimate experience the reason for this—not because you happen to be mean?

Criticism is—criticism.  Why shouldn’t we expect criticism to provide the insights of the inevitable flaws?  Sure, there are perfect poems here and there, perhaps a flawless short story, but when reviewing the corpus of a fashionable writer, life being what it is, there’s got to be let-downs, just as we are disappointed by our friends, our lovers, our jobs.

Social decorum should keep us from attacking our personal relationships—but why shouldn’t we be honest regarding a book that wants out time and money? 

Anis Shivani is correct—both in his criticism and by what his criticism symbolizes: In Literary Criticism, the bland and cheery is always bad, always a lie.

Anis Shivani is correct—even as we disagree with him; disagreeing with him (he over-values High Modernism, for instance) is not the point, for Shivani’s whole impulse his correct, and his audience responds—people deeply want honest criticism, and despite what the status quo sometimes says, they shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting it.

We disagree with Shivani when he writes of Billy Collins’ work: “escapist denial of death is pervasive.”  Has Shivani read Collins’ poem, “Passengers?” And we are only mildly miffed that Shivani stole our idea—debuted on Scarriet several years ago—that Collins’ poetry is “stand-up comedy.”  We forgive Shivani, for this nice observation alone: “[Collins]poems have lately become mostly about writing poems–in his pajamas, with a cup of coffee in hand.”

We also like that Shivani is well-acquainted with all genres; there’s nothing we hate more than ghetto-izing and niche-ing.   In his recent The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers, 7 are fiction writers, 6 are poets, and 2 are critics.

Shivani opens with a moral, common sense overview:

Are the writers receiving the major awards and official recognition really the best writers today? Or are they overrated mediocrities with little claim to recognition by posterity? The question is harder than ever to answer today, yet it is a worthwhile exercise to attempt (along with identifying underrated writers not favored by bureaucracy).

It’s difficult to know today because we no longer have major critics with wide reach who take vocal stands. There are no Malcolm Cowleys, Edmund Wilsons, and Alfred Kazins to separate the gold from the sand. Since the onset of poststructuralist theory, humanist critics have been put to pasture. The academy is ruled by “theorists” who consider their work superior to the literature they deconstruct, and moreover they have no interest in contemporary literature. As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical “reviews” announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes (hence my inclusion of Michiko Kakutani).

The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat–awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. The writing programs embody a philosophy of neutered multiculturalism/political correctness; as long as writers play by the rules (no threatening history or politics), there’s no incentive to call them out. (A politically fecund multiculturalism–very desirable in this time of xenophobia–is the farthest thing from the minds of the official arbiters: such writing would be deemed “dangerous,” and never have a chance against the mediocrities.)

The MFA writing system, with its mechanisms of circulating popularity and fashionableness, leans heavily on the easily imitable. Cloying writers like Denis Johnson, Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Aimee Bender, and Charles D’Ambrosio are held up as models of good writing, because they’re easy enough to copy. And copied they are, in tens of thousands of stories manufactured in workshops. Others hide behind a smokescreen of unreadable inimitability–Marilynne Robinson, for example–to maintain a necessary barrier between the masses and the overlords. Since grants, awards, and residencies are controlled by the same inbreeding group, it’s difficult to see how the designated heavies can be displaced.

As for conglomerate publishing, the decision-makers wouldn’t know great literature if it hit them in the face. Their new alliance with the MFA writing system is bringing at least a minimum of readership for mediocre books, and they’re happy with that. And the mainstream reviewing establishment (which is crumbling by the minute) validates their choices with fatuous accolades, recruiting mediocre writers to blurb (review) them.

If we don’t understand bad writing, we can’t understand good writing. Bad writing is characterized by obfuscation, showboating, narcissism, lack of a moral core, and style over substance. Good writing is exactly the opposite. Bad writing draws attention to the writer himself. These writers have betrayed the legacy of modernism, not to mention postmodernism. They are uneasy with mortality. On the great issues of the day they are silent (especially when they seem to address them, like William T. Vollmann). They desire to be politically irrelevant, and they have succeeded. They are the unreadable Booth Tarkingtons, Joseph Hergesheimers, and John Herseys of our time, earnestly bringing up the rear.

It’s hard to argue with his general points, and we like his pedagogical earnestness, too: “If we don’t understand bad writing, we can’t understand good writing.”

Here are the summary observations on the 15, and Shivani is definitely a critic of the twitter age, as he packs each line with left-wing, moral outrage:

Ashbery: When reality = language (as his carping cousins the language poets, have it) politics becomes vacuous, and any usurper can, and will step in.

Collins: Pioneered the poet as the stand-up comedian…

Cunningham: Proves the point that to be successful as a fiction writer today, all you have to do is create facile pastiche assemblages.

Diaz: Replaces plot in stories and novels with pumped-up “voice.”

Foer: Always quick to jump on the bandwagon of the moment.

Gluck: Her flatness of tone (mistaken as equanimity by infatuated critics) suggests paralysis after emotional death.

Graham: Started off modestly, but with increasing official recognition, her abstractions, pseudo-philosophizing, self-importance, and centerless long lines have spun out of control.

Kakutani: Simply the worst book critic on the planet.

Lahiri: Utterly unwilling to write about any thing other than privileged Bengali immigrants with PhDs living in Cambridge’s Central and Inman Squares and making easy adjustments to top of American meritocratic pyramid.

Nelson: Workshop writing, dysfunctionality is thy name, and there is no better writer to learn family dysfunction from…

Oliver: A “nature poet” whose poems all seem to follow the same pattern: time, animal, setting, observation, epiphany.

Olds: Infantilization packaged in pseudo-confession…

Tan: Empowered other immigrant writers to make mountains out of molehills of their minor adjustment struggles.

Vendler: Zero poetic feeling…has never uttered one original insight…

Vollmann: Encapsulates ethical vacuity of American fiction after the collapse of 1970s postmodernism.

It does not matter, for instance, that we feel Sharon Olds has written some moving poems: Anis Shivani is entitled to his opinion of Olds’ poetry—and if that’s how he feels about it, he should be allowed to utter it, and everyone should be encouraged to be that opinionated—if only to combat the reverse condition: the true literary nightmare of know-nothing politeness.

JUSTIN BIEBER’S BLACK VALENTINE

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)  might have the best poem in Rita Dove’s 20th Century Poetry Anthology

Did anyone notice that Justin Bieber mentioned Phillis Wheatley on Saturady Night Live last night?

The producers of SNL decided to have a little fun with Justin Bieber, who like many pop stars before him (most famously Elvis Presley and British Invasion blues rock bands) is a white person cashing in on a ‘black vibe’ for an exciting (raunchy?) public appeal.

There’s nothing complicated about this.

It’s the combination all of us want: Safe, yet dangerous: I’m actually very nice—but that doesn’t mean you can  fuck with me. 

Or: I’m blessed with x or y talent—but that doesn’t mean I had it completely easy. 

Or, I’m glorious—but love and sympathize with those not as glorious as I am.

This is the combining that is at the heart of all social activity and all poetry.

Which is why it never gets old.

SNL wryly pointed out that Valentine’s Day occurs during Black History Month, as they had Bieber, in his SNL introduction, wooing girls in the audience with roses and Black History Month facts: “Did you know Maya Angelou invented the peanut?”

One of Black History’s fixtures, Phillis Wheatley lived and died in the 18th century, was a pre-American slave shipped from West Africa by the British to their American colony, was highly educated and became a famous poet while living in Boston in the care of her affectionate master and family.  She wrote poetry like this:

Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

She supported the American Revolution and her work was praised by George Washington.  She was emancipated, married a free black, but died, with two infant children, due to poverty and illness, in 1784.

Phillis Wheatley’s story is complex.

There are lives, and even artistic sensibilities, which shame the easy attempt to profit from combinations put together in too contrived and glib a manner.

Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Centruy American Poetry has been attacked by Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff as being too black.

Vendler complained too many poets—and not enough poems by Wallace Stevens—were included.  This is not even worthy of a response, and Dove was correct not to work up any sort of substantial one.

The Perloff camp wanted more experimental poets in the anthology.

But the experimental crowd couldn’t care less for wonderful poems like the one below, included by Dove in her anthology, written by the African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Vendler doesn’t deserve a response; this will do as a response to Perloff:

Life’s Tragedy

It may be misery not to sing at all
And to go silent through the brimming day.
It may be sorrow never to be loved,
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.

To have come near to sing the perfect song
And only by a half–tone lost the key,
There is the potent sorrow, there the grief,
The pale, sad staring of life’s tragedy.

To have just missed the perfect love,
Not the hot passion of untempered youth,
But that which lays aside its vanity
And gives thee, for thy trusting worship, truth—

This, this it is to be accursed indeed;
For if we mortals love, or if we sing,
We count our joys not by the things we have,
But by what kept us from the perfect thing.

THE END OF RACISM

With the re-election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency, America really seems poised for an end of racism.

Yea, that ugly thing: racism.  Just about over, folks.  Not: Racism is over if you, driving your hybrid, want it.   No: Really and actually over.

Because it’s not something you can argue about.   It’s bigger (or smaller, really) than you—who want it to end.

Let’s not quibble about how much the whole issue is one of perception (it largely is) or how much bad stuff will continue to happen in its name (all kinds of shit will continue to happen in the name of everything).

Support for Obama (if we might make this generalization) does not translate into love for someone who happens to be black, but for success, humanity, family, and common sense as manifested by someone who happens to be black.

Millions and millions of supporters of Obama fault blacks who feel sorry for themselves and feel they are entitled.

Obama Fever is, most importantly, a celebration of black success.  And since even those who did not vote for Obama are on the same page as those who did vote for Obama, that is, in terms of being in favor of success, humanity, family and common sense (to put aside age-old, complex, political disagreements for a moment) we have to say things have never looked rosier for putting this crass, divisive issue (racism) behind us.

In this context, the biggest issue in American contemporary poetry over the past year is Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff’s honest take on Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, published at the end of 2011.  These two distinguished women critics, without much ado, came out and said quite simply: too many blacks included by a black editor.

The world didn’t end, riots didn’t occur; there were no fistfights.  Not even a shouting match.  There were some disagreement in respectable journals.  That was it.

This has to be good news.

Right now there are two strands in American poetry: Perloff’s, who believes, with Ezra ‘Make It New’ Pound, that progress is the most important aspect of poetry, not good poems per se, and Vendler’s, who is more willing to embrace a standard (based more or less on pleasure) against the uncertainties of poetry’s vicissitudes.

Dove was beaten by both these cudgels, accused not only of bean-counting, but sloppy scholarship, and even outright incompetence (in her Anthology  introduction). Vendler and Perloff were severe (nasty, really) in their criticism.

But we find Dove being pretty astute here:

Anthologies are usually arranged chronologically, with the occasional half-hearted attempt to suggest literary movements…Harlem Renaissance, Black Mountain school, the Beats. It’s the proverbial catch-22: Present the poets in sequential order, and each poem touts its wares standing alone, at the expense of knowing the conditions that spawned and nurtured it; one result of this method is that a love poem from 1908 will invariably sound stilted when compared to this month’s similarly inclined but less accomplished lyric. On the other hand, any attempt at a delineation of trends and events coincident with a generation of poets inevitably founders, for there are so many exceptions to whatever grid one tries to superimpose on such living, breathing material: Sara Teasdale was ten years younger than Robert Frost but died thirty years before him, so we’ll never know how she might have evolved as a poet…

Dove clearly knows the issues—Vendler and Perloff could both learn from what is written above, even as we might ask: should the anthologist be that concerned with “movements” and “conditions” and how a poet might have “evolved?”  Shouldn’t the poems speak for themselves, as poems?

Dove is correct; should a “grid” prevail, it’s no longer an anthology.  Dove’s anthology seems to be fretting unnecessarily, though, and yet it is precisely Perloff’s conceptualevolutionary view, which Dove obviously shares, that gives rise to Dove’s concern.  Vendler’s complaint (which Perloff quietly seconded) that Dove included “too many poets” was merely unfair.

We think the assault on Dove finally did not have a big impact because Dove’s selections—especially from the second half of the 20th century—are manifestly weak: here is the elephant in the room, the unspoken issue of which everyone is aware, yet helpless in the face of: how did American poetry become separated from public taste?

Poetry is not primarily theory on a blackboard; it lives or dies in the public arena. When poetry becomes a quibble in the classroom, or a mere affront on taste, it won’t survive in the national consciousness—and in America since about 1930, it (meaning the poems) has not.

The poetry anthology, as an index of poetry at large, appeals to a wide audience, like a national election.

The people have spoken.

The issue is not blackness.

It is success.

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…

BORROWED CLOTHES

Stephen Burt: Doesn’t look great in a jacket.  Prefers wearing a blouse.

We were amused to read the recent piece on Stephen Burt in the New York Times with the large color photo of Burt, the cross-dresser, sitting at an outdoor table in Harvard Square.  A cross-dresser?  Really?  I had no idea.

I was also a little puzzled by the Times’ claim that Burt is a “king-maker;” how do these rumors get started?

Helen Vendler, who Burt is slated to replace, is not really a “king-maker.”  Vendler gave some help to Jorie Graham, D.A. Powell, and  Burt, himself, but she’s mostly invested herself in Wallace Stevens.  The shadow of High Modernism is a very big shadow.

In the Times article, only one poet was mentioned who Burt had “made,” and she was an obscure one.

I had to laugh at the explanation of how she was “made,” when the Times writer intoned re: an award committee: “Burt was one of the jurors”—as if this had never happened before!

I also chuckled when it was pointed out that Burt was “a science fiction fan” and a member of “Facebook”—as if these were meaningful and unusual things.

Chief, perhaps, to Burt’s claim to fame, and dutifully cited by the Times, are a couple of definitional coinages of Burt’s: “Elliptical Poetry” and “The New Thing.”

There’s a problem with these, however.

Burt’s definitions of “Elliptical Poetry” and the poetry of “The New Thing” are rambling, narrowly topical, and lack epigrammatic focus.  Both definitions do little more than throw around names.  Take a half a cup of Gertrude Stein and add one tablespoon of John Ashbery… 

Even worse for Burt: “Elliptical Poetry,” with a more coherent definition, was actually a term invented by Frederick Pottle and discussed by Robert Penn Warren’s “Pure and Impure Poetry,” a lecture at Princeton and later published in Ransom’s Kenyon Review. (Wikipedia on Elliptical Poetry needs to be fixed.)

Here is Burt’s (twisted) definition of Elliptical Poetry:

Elliptical poets try to manifest a person—who speaks the poem and reflects the poet—while using all the verbal gizmos developed over the last few decades to undermine the coherence of speaking selves. They are post-avant-gardist, or post-‘postmodern’: they have read (most of them) Stein’s heirs, and the ‘language writers,’ and have chosen to do otherwise. Elliptical poems shift drastically between low (or slangy) and high (or naively ‘poetic’) diction. Some are lists of phrases beginning ‘I am an X, I am a Y.’ Ellipticism’s favorite established poets are Dickinson, Berryman, Ashbery, and/or Auden; Wheeler draws on all four. The poets tell almost-stories, or almost-obscured ones. They are sardonic, angered, defensively difficult, or desperate; they want to entertain as thoroughly as, but not to resemble, television.

This is all very vague: “try to manifest,” “verbal gizmos,” “post-avant-gardist,” “low and high diction,” “almost-stories,” and “television.” 

Perhaps the point is to be vague—after all , we’ve come a long way since critics of poetry fretted over “learning versus pleasure” and “prose versus poetry” and “ideas versus music.” 

But is it a “long way” if you’ve run off the dock into the utterly obscure?  Should critics be vague?  For instance, what does Burt mean by “coherent speaking selves?”  Is he talking about a dramatic speaker, like the narrator in Poe’s “Raven?”  Or the speaker in “The Red Wheel Barrow?”  Or the speakers in “The Waste Land?”  Or the narrator of “Howl?”

Robert Penn Warren’s essay, “Pure and Impure Poetry,” is post-modern, but it also has clarity and historic reach.  It’s possible to be topical without being attenuated, to allow Sidney’s Defense to discover things in Eliot’s Sacred Wood.  “Post-avant-gardist verbal gizmos” are not everything.

Burt gets published everywhere, but we haven’t figured out yet whether this is a good thing.   His Boston Globe piece on the Foetry website  steered me in that direction many years ago, so I guess that was good.

Unlike Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler, Burt is a poet, and his poetry is similar to his criticism: meticulous, full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse:

OVER CONNECTICUT: EMINENT DOMAIN

Inland, the antique milemarkers spread
themselves out into twentieth-century lanes,

jammed up this afternoon, though built for speed—
sun-harmed, old news, old toys, they bury the lead

of Prudence Crandall’s schoolroom heritage,
her kettle of cider, her wishes traced by hand.

We miss her now. We parcel out her land.
Town halls fade into greenery like spies.

New London’s keeping Groton in its sights;
its drawbridge swings, a military career.

New Haven is old scores and old concrete,
old freeways where the Great Migration stalled;

the Sound turns agate, band by frozen band.
By Haddam, there are only Linens-n-Things

and other things, great mounds, whole civilizations
still glowing in faint spits along Route Nine…

I miss the Great Society with its sense
that we could redraw maps that ailed us, gone

in a mist of real estate and demonstrations,
three or four angry years before I was born.

One is obliged to be impressed by poetry like this, but in one’s heart one is only slightly moved.

Mark Oppenheimer, the author of the Times article, writes:

Burt has few critics — or few critics who, given his influence, will be quoted. An exception is Steve Evans, who teaches at the University of Maine and says that Burt is often late to the party, putting his seal of approval on poets, like Armantrout, who have been important for years. But the more common critique is that Burt is too positive. And while Burt does write negative reviews, he writes so much, and so many of his reviews are songs of praise, that he can seem like a relentless, passionate booster — a fanboy.

The fanboy is, by his nature, an imperfect evangelist. I find Burt’s lucid, insightful explications of poems energizing: they make you want to discover more of that poet’s work. But there is something unnerving about his voracious enthusiasm. It’s the feeling you got hanging out with the kid who had every bootleg by his 100 favorite bands, or with the sci-fi junkie, or the film buff. They are obsessives, completists, and they overwhelm.

Burt is finally curatorial, not imaginative or original; he’s not an inventor.  He makes lists, but not insights.  When the Times revealed his predilection for dressing as a woman, I couldn’t help but recall these combative words by Leonardo Da Vinci as they might pertain to Stephen Burt, the cross-dressing, fan-boy of Letters:

They will say that since I do not have literary learning I cannot possibly express the things I wish to treat, but they do not grasp that my concerns are better handled through experience rather than bookishness. Though I may not know, like them, how to cite from the authors, I will cite something far more worthy, quoting experience, mistress of their masters. These very people go about inflated and pompous, clothed and adorned not with their own labours but with those of others. If they disparage me as an inventor, how much more they, who never invented anything but are trumpeters and reciters of the works of others, are open to criticism. Moreover those men who are inventors are interpreters of nature, and when those men are compared to the reciters and turmpeters of the works of others, they should be judged and appraised in relation to each other in no other way than the object in front of a mirror may be judged to surpass its reflection, for the former is actually something and the other nothing.  People who are little reliant upon nature are dressed in borrowed clothes, without which I would rank them with the herds of beasts.

IS MARJORIE PERLOFF SOMEONE’S CRAZY AUNT?

Perloff: Keep your status quo away from my avant-garde!

The distinguished professor and critic, Marjorie Perloff, recently published an essay, “Poetry on the Brink,” which has made quite an impression in the poetry world.

In a nutshell: what Perloff essentially did is join Helen Vendler, another academic, non-poet, lady-critic, in attacking the poet (and professor) Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry.

Avant-garde empathizer Perloff has merely broadened Vendler’s attack to smite “a certain kind of prize-winning, New Yorker, well-crafted poem,” featuring “irregular lines of free verse,” “prose syntax,” and a “lyric speaker” which uses the following tri-formula: “present time stimulus—memory—epiphany.”

The poetry world used to be so happy: the free verse Iowa Workshop poem united everyone: the Perloffs, the Doves, the Vendlers, the English Departments, the little magazines, the big magazines, the Workshops, the Jorie Grahams, the John Ashberys, the Harold Blooms…they all felt good together!

The Norton Anthology began with Beowulf and strode through Shakespeare and Keats and then…High Modernism—which turned its back on the Victorians—and the canon now consisted of young, clever, prosaic unknowns… the literary canon was just a Iowa Workshop course away…for you—with your immigrant grandmother—and you, homosexual wise ass…and even… you!  Excitement  was in the air!  Anything was possible!  Poetry was difficult…oh yes…but not that difficult.  Doors were opening…there was a party going on…

But that’s all turned sour, because the Poetry Workshop business has turned out too many poets and as the years party on, the canon has simply eluded too many deserving hopefuls—the party atmosphere of the insular poetry world has been replaced by Malthusian gloom.

So Perloff opens her essay by taking poetry’s universal unease by the horns, asking, “What happens to poetry when everybody is a poet?”

We don’t know if the queen has ever wondered, “what happens when everyone lives in a castle?”  Or, “What happens when everyone has a diamond ring as big as mine?”  Perhaps these are real concerns.  We don’t know.

Perloff, however is thinking a little more in the realm of “If everyone is happily married, what will happen to the thrill and danger of amour?”  If everyone is happy, won’t life become boring? For Perloff quotes Jed Rasula opining on the number of creative writing faculty in poetry (20,000) and then remarks, “What makes Rasula’s cautionary tale so sobering is that the sheer number of poets now plying their craft inevitably ensures moderation and safety.”

We suppose one can accept her logic that more human interaction tends to be a force of “moderation” and that popularity naturally creates that swelling middle zone of creatures who adhere to a popular center which is “safe.”  Let’s grant her this “safety” observation, for isn’t that how civilization works?  Sheer numbers of citizens diligently “plying their craft” does create “safety.”  The life of the explorer inevitably features fewer people experiencing more danger.

Perloff is also kind enough to tell us exactly what this “craft” of “safety” looks like today: “free verse” with “prose syntax,” “prepositional and parenthetical phrases,” “graphic imagery,” “extravagant metaphor,” a “lyric speaker,” “epiphany,” a “particular memory,” a “profound thought or insight”, and “large or personal tragedy”.

Perloff also lays out precisely the material history for us.

The current “safe” poem, she says, is found in most prize-winning poetry collections today, in The New Yorker, and in post-1970 poems found in Rita Dove’s Penguin anthology—and she gives a couple of examples from Dove’s anthology.

The early 20th century canon of Frost, Stein, Pound, Crane, Eliot, Stevens, L. Hughes, Williams, Moore which is found in the Dove, Perloff is basically happy with. No argument there.

Perloff finds “cheerful pluralism” and “noisy critical debate” existing up through the early 1960’s when “raw v. cooked” was in the air—and she finds this “raw” mostly ignored in Dove’s book—Perloff gives us a list of those left out: “black experimental poets;” “the Objectivists, Zukofsky, Oppen, Reznikoff, Rakosi, Niedecker;” and “Rexroth and Spicer.”

For Perloff, something went terribly wrong in American poetry after the “raw v. cooked poetry wars” subsided—the marker might be the death of O’Hara in 1966, we’re not sure, but Perloff frankly writes:

Today’s poetry establishment—Robert Pinsky and Robert Hass, Louise Glück and Mark Strand, all of them former poets laureate—command a polite respect but hardly the enthusiasm and excitement that greeted and continue to greet such counterparts of the previous generation as O’Hara.

Again, let’s give Perloff the benefit of the doubt and assume O’Hara is “exciting” and Hass is not.  O’Hara would probably make a more lively guest on Leno or Letterman; O’Hara was a ‘scenester’ and his poetry conveys that—we suppose this is what Perloff is getting at, but we’re not sure.

Perloff laces into Dove’s introduction to Dove’s Penguin anthology with great vitriol, essentially calling it brain-dead. Perloff calls Dove’s prose in the introduction to that which might be found in a “Victorian children’s book,” the worst thing a member of the avant-garde could possibly say about anything.  But in this part of the essay, about a third of the way through, in her white hot attack on Dove (which seems to us was the trigger for Perloff’s essay in the first place, perhaps after a late night conversation with Helen Vendler) hubris catches up with Perloff, and like Icarus flying to close to the sun, Perloff all at once drops like a rock into the sea, her well-meaning and well-supported argument collapsing with a great whoooosh!

Like some conceptualist poems she admires, Perloff keeps talking in the rest of the essay—but to no effect.  It’s rather how conceptualist poems turn out: nice idea, but execution therefrom, crap.  Such poems, and their poets, are incapable of sustaining real interest.  Their wanna-be affectation is merely annoying.

Let’s summarize Perloff’s collapse:

She condemns the late 20th century, New Yorker, Dove Penguin anthology, poetry contest winning, contemporary free verse lyric—but this lyric of memory, epiphany, etc  has always existed, in “Since There’s No Help, Come, Let Us Kiss And Part” or “Dover Beach”—but now without rhyme and meter.  And here’s a perfect example, from her adored O’Hara:

At Joan’s

It is almost three
I sit at the marble top
sorting poems, miserable
the little lamp glows feebly
I don’t glow at all

I have another cognac
and stare at two little paintings
of Jean-Paul’s, so great
I must do so much
or did they just happen

the breeze is cool
barely a sound filters up
through my confused eyes
I am lonely for myself
I can’t find a real poem

if it won’t happen to me
what shall I do

How simple to hoist Perloff with her own petard, quoting from her own admired specimens!  It seems O’Hara was sinning, too.  There’s that first person, lyric “I,” recollecting/reflecting towards an epiphany.  Or Niedecker, whose exclusion from the Dove Perloff mourned:

What horror to awake at night
and in the dimness see the light.
Time is white
mosquitoes bite
I’ve spent my life on nothing.

The thought that stings. How are you, Nothing,
sitting around with Something’s wife.
Buzz and burn
is all I learn
I’ve spent my life on nothing.

I’ve pillowed and padded, pale and puffing
lifting household stuffing—
carpets, dishes
benches, fishes
I’ve spent my life in nothing.

This one even rhymes.  And it could have been written in 1822 by John Clare!

The ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ argument bedevils critics like Perloff—she is always looking for genuine examples of “time and place” in poetry; this is the cudgel highbrows always bring down on the heads of those who have mere “likes and dislikes,” as Dove, quoted by Perloff, admits she has in her Penguin anthology introduction.  But the silly modernist avant-garde critics are forever hemmed in by the absurdity of their claims, claims which must be intimately tied to the purity of “time and place.”  When it is pointed out, over and over, how their sacred cows are all over the map in terms of “time and place,” they can only meekly reply that O’Hara’s use of a centuries-old, “I” centered, lyric is yet modern on account of it being so trivial.  Categories of “time and place” are so important to the Modernist that soon they become everything, even as those categories were dubious to start with.  Instead of asking, what are the elements necessary for the realized poem? they seek to create categories out of the poems written in Brooklyn by a Jewish immigrant in 1930.  This makes our avant-garde critic a poetry scholar, and makes them naturally and vehemently opposed to the question: what is a good poem?  The more scholarly they become, the more naturally opposed they become to even considering what could possibly distinguish a good poem from a bad one.  They are too busy delineating the facts of “time and place.”  There happen, in this instance, to be two poets—one wrote beautiful poems, the other wrote awful poems—but because the critic was alive to the latter as composed by a Jewish immigrant living in Brooklyn in 1930, the latter Jewish Brooklynite is selected as relevant, and the former Jewish Brooklynite is ignored.  Let this error become established scholarly behavior and you see what kind of damage it does to poetry.

Perloff condemns Dove’s selection of Trethewey’s “Hot Combs” because to Perloff it sounds like a poem from the “60s or 70s,” and yet, to Perloff’s horror, it was published in 2000.”  What to make of Perloff’s hero, O’Hara, then, who writes poems on the  model of “Dover Beach” (just in free verse)?  O’Hara is at least a century out of date!  In O’Hara’s case, what superficialities of “time and place” (and other considerations) is Perloff surrendering to?  The lyric, as essentially described by Perloff, is very, very old.  Is Perloff questioning it today because it was written by someone in the 1960s?  It was written by Sappho!

Perloff does do us the honor of showing us, in some detail, what she feels is worthy poetry: conceptual poetry, or cut-and-paste poetry.  Perloff fails to mention—unbelievably—that T.S. Eliot did this in 1922 with his “Waste Land.”  The “appropriation” of 1960s visual arts and music is her focus, but why she ignores Eliot is very odd, indeed.

As for cut-and-paste, one wag (Eugene #25) put it this way on the comments thread to Perloff’s article: “Poetry is too uniform, therefore poets should copy existing material.”

The comments thread (that tool of democracy banned by Blog Harriet and Ron Silliman’s blog) is a feast of witty and sobering reaction.

We took the title of this Scarriet piece from comment #64 by jrand, who goes on to write: “…anybody can cut and paste—why would that have any validity, whether characterizing Waldheim, or making fun of Perloff?”

The “characterizing Waldheim” refers to a work praised by Perloff, in which someone (a poet?) took the memoirs of a nation’s leader and removed words to make that leader look stupid and evil.  Maybe Kurt Waldheim was a really bad guy, but is this trickery a virtuous method of “composition?”  Perloff is so obsessed with “time and place”—1930s! Austria! Everyone’s a Nazi! that it’s all she sees.  Perloff’s hatred of Dove’s anthology resembles her apparent hatred of the Austrians: Perloff explicitly mourns the fact that after 1945, Austria became a “prosperous nation”—as if Perloff believes all Austrians ought to be punished forever.  Perloff’s admiration of a meddled-with memoir passed off as poetry is apparently based on irrational, political hatred rather than on any aesthetic (or moral) principles. Why would Perloff see fit to mention that Austria, after 1945, became a “prosperous nation”?  When the Vietnam war ended, why would anyone wish that either the U.S. or Vietnam not become “prosperous”? Why should we ever wish for a country—more importantly, its people, its women and its children, not to become “prosperous”?  How could we ever be against an entire nation’s prosperity?  Because of Hitler, the whole nation of Austria, after 1945, should not be allowed to prosper? Hitler came to power precisely because of a lack of prosperity. What sort of mind would wish for a whole nation during peacetime not to prosper?

But no doubt Perloff felt compelled to drag forth the Waldheim poem because she really had so little to recommend her prized Language Poetry against the Dove lyric.

Perloff manages to come up with only three bullet points in favor of her kind of poetry: “ellipsis,” “indirection” and “political engagement.”

This is weak, since “ellipsis” and “indirection” characterize High Modernism, if not works farther back in time—so how can these be claimed as defining categories by the Language Poets?  Neither can “political engagement” ever be seen to belong only to Language Poetry, or the sorts of avant-garde works Perloff admires.

“Political engagement” certainly does not characterize Perloff’s other examples of contemporary, cut-and-paste excellence in her essay: Susan Howe’s collage on her husband’s death; Peter Gizzi’s little poem (“In broad dazed light”) to which Perloff felt compelled to pad her commentary with Victorian-era biographical information on Gizzi; the “Buddhist abnegation” of John Cage’s cutting of “Howl,” a miserable little thing (which she absurdly claims is “musical!”) which nevertheless cannot be transposed into prose, thus passing, in its “abnegation,” the crucial Perloff litmus test for great poetry(??); or, finally, Charles Bernstein’s boring send-up of the ballad form, “All the Whiskey in Heaven.”  So Perloff had to come up with one example, at least, of “political engagment,’ and she picked a doozy—one that bespoke Perloff’s hatred of all Austrians (!!).

Perloff is to be congratulated for laying out her avant-garde politics and her avant-garde aesthetics in such detail.  She really pulled out all the stops, and this may be her last avant-garde hurrah, and the last hurrah for sickly Language Poetry, who knows?  In this essay she throws around terms like “Joycean” and “verbivocovisual.” She cheerfully quotes Kenneth Goldsmith’s urge for “uncreative writing”—all to Seth Abramson’s dismay, no doubt.

Perloff has done a great service to the world of poetry—for the backlash to her article will certainly dwarf its intended effect: to establish, once and for all, the worthiness of that experimental/political avant-garde poem for which no one presently gives a damn—except a few tweedy professors—and to push it out into the glorious mainsteam, where the good, the bad, the mean, the friendly, the evil and the weak, all prosper.

W.S.MERWIN V. RITA DOVE

President Obama has Rita Dove going all the way in his Scarriet Poetry Tournament office pool.

Rita Dove will have to defeat M.S. Merwin in the South/Midwest Bracket’s semi-final to make it into the Elite Eight.  Her Penguin 20th Americna Poetry anthology has been the centerpiece of this year’s Scarriet March Madness Tourney—stretching its excitement and thrills into June.  Dove has three poems in her own controversial Penguin anthology and has barged into the Sweet 16 by knocking off young black poets.  Trashed by critics Helen Vendler and William Logan, Dove stands proud thanks to the success of her poems in Scarriet’s Tournament.  But she’ll have to beat the distinguished poet W.S. Merwin to advance.  Merwin brings this poem (from Dove’s anthology) to the table:

FOR THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY DEATH

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

We always feel slightly miffed at Merwin’s lack of punctuation—for whom does it serve?  Does Merwin (like a child) feel no punctuation adds poetic mystique to his work?

The idea of Merwin’s poem is an interesting one—the unknown anniversary of one’s death—and he gives it a fairly cursory treatment.  We are not thrilled by this poem, but we don’t dislike it, except for the reason mentioned above.

Rita Dove picked the following poem of hers for inclusion in her Penguin anthology of poems of the 20th Century:

AFTER READING MICKEY IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN FOR THE THIRD TIME BEFORE BED

I'm in the milk and the milk's in me! ...I'm Mickey!

My daughter spreads her legs
to find her vagina:
hairless, this mistaken
bit of nomenclature
is what a stranger cannot touch
without her yelling. She demands
to see mine and momentarily
we’re a lopsided star
among the spilled toys,
my prodigious scallops
exposed to her neat cameo.

And yet the same glazed
tunnel, layered sequences.
She is three; that makes this
innocent. We’re pink!
she shrieks, and bounds off.

Every month she wants
to know where it hurts
and what the wrinkled string means
between my legs. This is good blood
I say, but that’s wrong, too.
How to tell her that it’s what makes us—
black mother, cream child.
That we’re in the pink
and the pink’s in us.

This is a lovely poem, but we have no idea what “That we’re in the pink/and the pink’s in us” is supposed to signify.  Except for the charm of a mother and young child glimpsed, we have no idea what this poem is trying to do.  Is it pleased with itself that it is somewhat risque’ in content?  We are baffled.

Sorry, Mr. President!  You lose the office pool!

Merwin 88 Dove 69

MARCH MADNESS SELECTION: A GLIMPSE INSIDE

Rita Dove: to be young and famous!

The Scarriet editors, with the help of Marla Muse—

Marla Muse: Hi.

Hi, Marla. —are in the process of choosing the 64 poets who will rumble for the championship this year.  How do we choose?

MM: May I speak?

In matters of poetry, the Muse should always speak.

MM: Thank you. Public contests exist for the audience, not the participants.  So we pick big names.

Wait a minute—that doesn’t make any sense!

MM: 63 poets have to lose.  Unknown poets—most of our audience—envy big name poets; our audience is guaranteed to enjoy themselves—and that’s the whole point.

But what’s a “big name” in poetry these days?

MM: Someone born in 1927, like John Ashbery, for instance.

The year Babe Ruth hit 60 homeruns for the New York Yankees.

MM: Don’t try and be poetic.  Don’t distract.  Don’t show off.  Let me make my point.

Sorry, Marla.

MM: Go back a little further. Wallace Stevens was 20, and it was still the 19th century.  But 1927 is probably far back enough.  There are not too many famous poets in Rita Dove’s recent 20th Century Poetry anthology born after 1900.  Before 1900, you’ve got Frost, T.S. Eliot, Edna Millay, E.E. Cummings, and then if you want to throw in Stevens, Williams, Pound, and Stein, you may.  But after 1900—

There’s lots, right?

MM: The bulk were born between 1925 and 1940—old enough to still be living and old enough to have won plenty of awards.  But none are household words, like Robert Frost or E.E. Cummings; none are really famous. Then there’s Billy Collins born in 1941; after that, no one is even close to being famous, not even a little bit.

What a cynical analysis!

MM: You are being sentimental.  Time and fame are not cynical; they just are.  The topic is not poetry, but poets.

And poets are made of flesh.

MM: Exactly.  And Helen Vendler and Rita Dove are flesh and their fight, I feel, was based on age.  Let’s look at the best known poets by decade of birth in Dove’s book:

1860s: Edgar Lee Masters
1870s: Robert Frost
1880s: T.S. Eliot
1890s: E.E. Cummings
1900s: W.H. Auden  (or Theodore Roethke)
1910s: Elizabeth Bishop  (or John Berryman)
1920s: Anne Sexton  (Allen Ginsberg not in Dove’s anthology)
1930s: Amiri Baraka  (Sylvia Plath not in Dove’s anthology)
1940s: Billy Collins
1950s: Rita Dove  (or Jorie Graham)
1960s: Sherman Alexie  (or Joanna Klink)
1970s: Kevin Young

No poet born in the 20th century is famous.  Except maybe Anne Sexton—because she committed suicide.

Marla, that’s depressing.  So the anthologist, Rita Dove, is the most famous American poet born in the 1950s?

MM: Who would you choose instead? Cathy Song?

What about Paul Muldoon?

MM: We speak of fame, here, that is so minute, that a reader holding this anthology in their hands will feel, at that moment, that Rita Dove is the most famous poet born in the 1950s.

OK, I see your point.

MM: The most famous poet in Dove’s anthology born in the ’50s might possibly be Jorie Graham, and born in the 60s?  Jorie Graham’s baby-sitter, Joanna Klink.  Dove, born in 1952, has 40 poets represented in her anthology born between 1880 and 1919—and 26 born between 1950 and 1954; the biggest single group of poets in the anthology were born around the same time as Dove herself, including Iowa classmates, Joy Harjo and Sandra Cisneros.

Interesting.

MM: Finally, Vendler was born in the 1930s, and Amiri Baraka is the best known American poet (from political controversy) born in the 1930s from Dove’s anthology.  Given Vendler’s expressed views on Dove’s Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry in the New York Review of Books that Dove’s anthology was a little too affirmative action, these dates have to make Ms. Vendler wonder.  Poets included, like Walcott, Clifton, and Lourde were also born in the ’30s; Vendler has to travel back to almost the middle of the 19th century to find the birth date of her beloved poet, Wallace Stevens.  This can’t help but make Vendler feel like the game is being lost.

Dove has picked good poems, but that doesn’t change the fact that her anthology feels very much driven by agenda rather than poetry.

MM: We shouldn’t get into that controversy.  Dove couldn’t help what she did, for anthologies are always about poets, not poetry.

LIfe too, is about poets, not poetry.  This is why we need to forgive Dove.

MM: Big names.

Let the games begin!  Stay tuned for the East Brackets.

SCARRIET’S MARCH MADNESS 2012!

IT’S BAAAACKK!!!   SCARRIET’S MARCH MADNESS!!!

The Dove/Vendler clash last year shook all of poetry, and the blood lust to know which poems are best and what kind of poetry is best for society has grown to a fever pitch.  We’ve seen poets fighting poets, poets crowding before windows to glimpse the latest judgement on this issue. Like motorcycles, poets are everywhere!  And they’re noisier and more irrascible than ever!

Given the gravity of the accusations and counter-accusations that have ensued, we the Scarriet editors decided that the best way to settle the disputes was by honest, clean sport.

What the irascible editors and critics cannot resolve, basketball will untie.

If the professors cannot agree on the worthiness of these poems, we will help.  What we propose is nothing less than smashing each poem against a glass backboard and hurling it down the length of a parquet floor.  We can hear the objection: ‘But some poems are too delicate for such treatment.’  We beg to differ.  The poem’s EFFECT may be an evocation of delicacy, but no poem of worth is brought to fruition without bruises, sweat, surreptitious eye-gouging and dramatic faked falls in full view of a ref who is schooled in every genre and philosophical nuance of our time.

Shall the poems competing in March Madness come only from the Dove anthology?

Some will, but the tournament will feature contemporary poems from all over.

Our intrepid reporter, Marla Muse, will continue to bring you interviews and analysis all through March Madness.  She will put this whole Rita Dove/Helen Vendler controversy in perspective for you.  She will dig into the lives, and explore the playing ability, of the participating poets.

We will also use a slightly different format this year, based on feedback from our readers.   We will have 64 competing poets this year, rather than 64 competing poems, so different poems by the competing poets will be featured in each elimination round.

Stay tuned for the bracket listings!

SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

All ye need to know?

1. Rita Dove—Penguin editor reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYRB
2. Terrance Hayes—In Dove’s best-selling anthology, and young
3. Kevin Young—In Dove’s anthology, and young
4. Amiri Baraka—In Dove’s anthology
5. Billy Collins—in the anthology
6. John Ashbery—a long poem in the anthology
7. Dean Young—not in the anthology
8. Helen Vendler—hated the anthology
9. Alan CordleTime’s masked Person-of-the-Year = Foetry.com’s once-anonymous Occupy Poetry protestor?
10. Harold Bloom—you can bet he hates the anthology
11. Mary Oliver—in the anthology
12. William Logan—meanest and the funniest critic (a lesson here?)
13. Kay Ryan—our day’s e.e. cummings
14. John Barr—the Poetry Man and “the Man.”
15. Kent Johnson—O’Hara and Koch will never be the same?
16. Cole Swensen—welcome to Brown!
17. Tony Hoagland—tennis fan
18. David Lehman—fun lovin’ BAP gate-keeper
19. David Orr—the deft New York Times critic
20. Rae Armantrout—not in the anthology
21. Seamus Heaney—When Harvard eyes are smilin’
22. Dan Chiasson—new reviewer on the block
23. James Tate—guaranteed to amuse
24. Matthew Dickman—one of those bratty twins
25. Stephen Burt—the Crimson Lantern
26. Matthew Zapruder—aww, everybody loves Matthew!
27. Paul MuldoonNew Yorker Brit of goofy complexity
28. Sharon Olds—Our Lady of Slightly Uncomfortable Poetry
29. Derek Walcott—in the anthology, latest T.S. Eliot prize winner
30. Kenneth Goldsmith—recited traffic reports in the White House
31. Jorie Graham—more teaching, less judging?
32. Alice Oswald—I don’t need no stinkin’ T.S. Eliot Prize
33. Joy Harjo—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
34. Sandra Cisneros—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
35. Nikki Giovanni—for colored girls when po-biz is enuf
36. William Kulik—not in the anthology
37. Ron Silliman—no more comments on his blog, but in the anthology
38. Daisy Fried—setting the Poetry Foundation on fire
39. Eliot Weinberger—poetry, foetry, and politics
40. Carol Ann Duffy—has Tennyson’s job
41. Camille Dungy—runs in the Poetry Foundation forest…
42. Peter Gizzi—sensitive lyric poet of the hour…
43. Abigail Deutsch—stole from a Scarriet post and we’ll always love her for it…
44. Robert Archambeau—his Samizdat is one of the more visible blogs…
45. Michael Robbins—the next William Logan?
46. Carl Phillips—in the anthology
47. Charles NorthWhat It Is Like, New & Selected chosen as best of 2011 by David Orr
48. Marilyn Chin—went to Iowa, in the anthology
49. Marie Howe—a tougher version of Brock-Broido…
50. Dan Beachy-Quick—gotta love that name…
51. Marcus Bales—he’s got the Penguin blues.
52. Dana Gioia—he wants you to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, so what r u waiting 4?
53. Garrison Keillor—the boil on the neck of August Kleinzahler
54. Alice Notley—Penguin’s Culture of One by this Paris-based author made a lot of 2011 lists
55. Mark McGurl—won Truman Capote Award for 2011’s The Program Era: Rise of Creative Writing
56. Daniel Nester—wrap your blog around my skin, yea-uh.
57. Yusef Komunyakaa—in the anthology
58. Adrienne Rich—in the anthology
59. Jeremy Bass— reviewed the anthology in the Nation
60. Anselm Berrigan—somebody’s kid
61. Travis Nichols—kicked us off Blog Harriet
62. Seth Abramson—poet and lawyer
63. Stephen Dunn—one of the best poets in the Iowa style
64. Philip Levine—Current laureate, poem recently in the New Yorker  Movin’ up!
65. Ben Mazer—Does anyone remember Landis Everson?
66. Reb Livingston—Her No Tells blog rocks the contemporary scene
67. Marjorie Perloff—strutting avant academic
68. John Gallaher—Kent Johnson can’t get enough punishment on Gallaher’s blog
69. Fred Viebahn—poet married to the Penguin anthologist
70. James Fenton—said after Penguin review hit, Dove should have “shut up”
71. Rodney Jones—BAP poem selected by Dove riffs on William Carlos Williams’ peccadilloes
72. Mark Doty—no. 28’s brother
73. Cate Marvin—VIDA and so much more
74. Richard Wilbur—still hasn’t run out of rhyme
75. W.S. Merwin—no punctuation, but no punk
76. Jim Behrle—the Adam Sandler of po-biz
77. Bin Ramke—still stinging from the Foetry hit
78. Thomas Sayer Ellis—not in the anthology
79. Henri Cole—poetry editor of the New Republic
80. Meghan O’Rourke—Behrle admires her work
81. Anne Waldman—the female Ginsberg?
82. Anis Shivani—get serious, poets! it’s time to change the world!
83. Robert Hass—Occupy story in Times op-ed
84. Lyn Hejinian—stuck inside a baby grand piano
85. Les Murray—greatest Australian poet ever?
86. Sherman Alexie—is this one of the 175 poets to remember?
87. Geoffrey Hill—great respect doesn’t always mean good
88. Elizabeth Alexander—Frost got Kennedy, she got Obama
89. A.E. Stallings—A rhymer wins MacArthur!
90. Frank Bidart—in the anthology
91. Robert Pinsky—in the anthology
92. Carolyn Forche—in the anthology
93. Louise Gluck—not in the anthology
94. Keith Waldrop—his Hopwood Award paid her fare from Germany
95. Rosmarie Waldrop—her Hopwood helpled launch Burning Deck
96. C.D. Wright—born in the Ozark mountains
97. Forrest Gander—married to no. 96
98. Mark Strand—translator, surrealist
99. Margaret Atwood—the best Canadian poet of all time?
100. Gary B. Fitzgerald—the poet most likely to be remembered a million years from now

CRITICISM IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN POETRY

 

 

Most softies can’t get their heads around the idea that criticism is more important than poetry—but it’s a no-brainer: critical fervor can stimulate the writing of great poetry itself, whereas the wishy-washy mind that fears, or hates, or is afraid of, criticism will never produce great poetry. image

The trouble with most attempts at criticism is that it’s half-hearted; it doesn’t rise to that fervor of interest and curiosity that grows wings, it remains at the level of blurbing, or that sort of reviewing which recites general facts.

Good judgement requires observation, not fairness; it requires those leaps that changes the look of all the facts.  And  finally, judgement doesn’t have to be persuasive; persuasiveness is for love and the law courts; the good critic should be blunt, above all.

The greatest poets have always excelled at criticism; the reader realizes this truth when reading side-by-side the prose and poetry of an Eliot or a Shelley; if Shakespeare is anything, he is a ferocious critic—look at those judgements in his plays and sonnets: harsh, pointed, weighty, insistent, hectoring, insane, pushy, ridiculing, weeping, bellowing, pleading, all arrayed in armies marching in the armor of intense education, and winding up vocalized in the most delicate poetry.  Which drives that Shakespeare-engine, do you think?  The windy delicacy or the  swelling judgement?   And what of Dante?  Is this a harsh, critical mind, or what?

The ambitious poet runs from criticism—in vain.

But don’t get big heads, Helen Vendler or Harold Bloom.  No poetry from you only proves your critical lack.  Yours is the example in reverse; unable to provide poetry yourself, it is no wonder your judgements are so erratic and untrustworthy—overrating Crane, Stevens and Ashbery, turning Shakespeare into a dull feast, belittling titans like Poe; ignoring past greatness to pump minor moderns.  Vendler, your overrating of Stevens will be your doom; in the long run it will destroy your reputation, and you will be forgotten.  You studied so intensely Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and yet found nothing new, only tossing more wood on the old flames of the “dark lady” and “young man” tale.

There are two choices: make a judgement or defer judgement—for a little while.  The Silliman side, the dark side of the bright, public, Vendler moon, flees from the critic’s responsibility by finding “communities” to appreciate.  But in darkness judgement is made the same as in the light; Silliman is as tyrannical as any speaking critic, as any William Logan, for all must make judgements, and do, even in silence, and silence can be the loudest judgement of all.

Judgements are made all the time, in placing a comma or choosing a word; judgements are made in the minutest actions, in all our helpless passivity and neutrality we still judge; all of us are judgemental all the time, whether we want to be, or not.   The critical wound touches us all.

Two major types attempt to flee  judgement: the ‘executive’ and the ‘nice chap.’  The executive (the Harold Bloom) makes grand judgements, ranking and rating, without thinking things all the way through, and the nice chap (the Silliman), attempts to defer judgement indefinitely.  The executive omits the details, while the nice chap tends to see details only.  Edgar Poe was a critic who always paid attention to small issues (the “carping grammarian,” as he was called)—which inevitably makes the executive types nervous.  But Poe was an American critic who knew when to make the large, historical judgement, too—the sorts of judgement which disconcerts the nice chap. (Big answers! Across time! Gulp!)  But the critic always needs to do both: care about the little things and make the sweeping judgments.  To quote the Phaedrus, we ask from the critic two things, first, “the comprehension of scattered particulars in one idea” and second, “division into species…”

But why does there have to be all this judgement in poetry?  Why does it matter, if poetry is not 1) life and death and 2) it’s finally a matter of private creativity?

Here’s why. Human beings are the only animals that care for things that don’t matter; caring even when it doesn’t matter is why there is poetry, (and also why there is criticism), and also why there are many other things that make life worth living, even as it sometimes confuses us.

Animals only care when it matters—or when they think it matters.   A cat cleans itself so its prey can’t smell it, yet an indoor cat who never catches prey still grooms itself and keeps itself odorless and clean. The indoor cat in this case thinks what it does matters—even though it doesn’t.  But we, as the cat’s owner, appreciate its cleanliness, anyway.

There are advantages to caring—even when it does not matter, or does not seem to matter.  Caring does matter, in ways we don’t always understand.  And as Kant reminded us, judging and understanding are not the same thing; understanding is a blessed state; judging is something we simply all do, all the time.  Does that look/sound right?  Why not?

The poet judges just as much as the critic does, and the good poet is more judgemental than the bad critic.

DOVE ASKS VENDLER’S FORGIVENESS BY WAY OF SHAKESPEARE

If thou survive my Black Arts Movement day,
When white critics my choices with smears shall cover,
And thou shalt by fortune once more resurvey
The Penguin Anthology of thy dear editor,
Compare it with the bettering of the time,
And though it be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve it for its hate, not for its rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my Dove’s Muse grown with this groaning age,
A dearer birth than this her hate had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage;
But since she died, and poets better rate,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, hers for her hate.’

Amiri Baraka

Shakespeare Sonnet 32

If thou survive my well-contented day,
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bettering of the time,
And though they be outstripp’d by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
   But since he died and poets better prove,
   Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.’

I’M DREAMING OF A WHITE ANTHOLOGY

I’m dreaming of a white anthology
Just like the ones I used to know,
With William Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens
And Shakespeare next to Robert Lowell.

I’m dreaming of a white anthology
With every essay that I write.
May your New York School-Beats-Objectivists-and-Language-Poets be bright!
And all your anthologies be white.

THE BEWITCHED CRITIC

Helen Vendler suffered a mortal blow to her reputation recently.  The Harvard professor and renowned critic viciously attacked the poet Rita Dove for her Penguin anthology of 20th century American poetry (2011): Too many poets, too many black poets, and not enough Wallace Stevens.  It is almost as if Vendler had been set up, had stepped into an ambush; Vendler’s humiliation hurts because it hurts today’s poetry, so well-known in poetry circles is Ms. Vendler.

Vendler seemed secure in her position as Queen Aesthete—no axe to grind; motivated merely by a disinterested love of poetry and its pleasurable complexities; if she seemed the Critic of the Concert Hall and not the Street,  this made her seem  all the more untouchable, like a great concert musician with skills pure and admirable.  Her instrument has always been made of praise; her close-reading insights always elevated the poetic labors of whomever she chose to read; even mechanical skill became a philosophy for every poet she touched, whether it was Seamus Heaney or Jorie Graham, Shakespeare, Keats or Stevens or Yeats.

Every minor poet needs at least one critic like Vendler in order to stay alive; she can make a lyric seem an epic of complexity, a mere quatrain burst with as many stories as a novel.  She is one of those critics who can almost turn a minor poet into a major one. 

There’s only one problem with Vendler, who learned from her New Critic masters to stoke small kindling so it blazes into major conflagrations with the close-reading ironies of the magnifying glass. 

The first rule of Criticism is: Find Fault.  The freshman composition student usually has nothing of interest to say when confronted with a major poem because they are too nice to say anything bad about a major poem.  And if the young student is encouraged not to be intimidated, and to say what’s really on their mind, they will usually blurt out something like: “I would tell Shakespeare (in the Sonnets) not to waste his time with this obsession for the young man!”  And we smile, even if this practical advice might have some merit, on a certain level.

Vendler has no such inhibitions.  Vendler’s jungle of praise can grow anywhere.  Its flowers soar, its vines sing.

Vendler is one of those critics who can easily find in a poem more than even the poet knew; for example, here she is unpacking the third quatrain of Shakespeare’s sonnet #116:

The third quatrain departs from its function as reinscription of the second in considering the merit of the young man’s view. It begins by keeping up the vehemence of refutation, remaining within the debater’s genre; but suddenly, a new concessive appears as one had earlier—in line 8’s although his heighth be taken. The young man is granted another point. Something in fact, it is true, is removed; something, it is granted, comes into the bending compass of the sickle. The thing that the young man values, that he has in mind with his occluded talk of “alteration” and “removes,” turns out to be physical beauty, rosy lips and cheeks, which, it is conceded, fall to Time’s sickle. The speaker cannot deny the actual truth of those removals, but the concession is a painful one. The young man, even though concealing his motives behind his euphemizing vagueness, has been exposed (by this unpacking-by-reiteration of his very words alters and bends) as a man in thrall to the sensual bloom of youth; when he sees the sickle bend, he must, he has said, bend with it, remove himself when he sees beauty removed, and find another as-yet-unreaped beauty. (The speaker’s tenderness toward the young man forbids his showing narratively, or in prophecy, the destruction of sensual beauty in the young man; he admits here only the general law, that within the compass of the sickle all sensual beauty falls.)

This kind of criticism can run the gamut from brilliant to is this even necessary? 

Note how thoroughly Vendler gets inside “the young man’s” head; the young man is not even hinted at in sonnet #116.  He doesn’t exist.

Shakespeare’s sonnet #116, “Let Me Not To The Marriage of True Minds” is a major sonnet by a major poet, and major poets, by definition, make an impact directly on the public; they require no Vendler, and if any poet did require a Vendler, that poet surely would not be understood until a Vendler “discovered” them.  Imagine you are a poet, and one of your quatrains, in order to be understood, necessitated a gloss like the one above.  Vendler over-explains Shakespeare, and thus falls short of Shakespeare’s intention, and here is a paradox of Criticism; Vendler covers #116 in superfluity; her appreciative fecundity mars the major impulse even as it caresses its subject with suffocating adoration.  Such “reach” is only necessary to prop up lesser poems. It is a truism that if a poem suceeds, criticism crumbles before it, leading one to cry, “I like it!”  “Beautiful!” “Did you see what that poem did? Yes.”

Even if we grant Vendler’s criticism of Shakespeare’s sonnets is useful; how useful?  How much do Shakespeare’s sonnets need Vendler’s criticism?  If we reply that Vendler’s criticism needs Shakespeare more than Shakespeare needs Vendler’s criticism (and I would guess even Vendler couldn’t but agree) it begs the question: is there wretched poetry somewhere Vendler could rescue, so that Vendler would be more valuable to it, than it is to her?

But when should Criticism ever save the poet, except to overturn prior abusive Criticism?   Why should Shakespeare, or Wallace Stevens, or anyone, save Helen Vendler?  What is the relationship between Vendler and her poets?  If the poets don’t need Vendler, why do we need Vendler?  If Vendler—as with Sonnet #116—makes much ado about nothing, perhaps we need to be saved from her?

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.

If Wallace Stevens is untrustworthy as a poet—if he sounds wise, but is not, should we even allow a critic like Vendler to expound on Stevens—that is, if we wish to keep our sanity?

THE TEN GREATEST POETRY CRITICISM TEXTS (OR, WHO NEEDS POETRY?)

We shall  proceed more or less chronologically, though it’s tempting to go the way of David Letterman and work up to: “and the Number One Poetry Criticism Text is…”

1.  The Poetics—Aristotle

The ultimate rule-book.  Learn these rules, then break them.  And learn this: Aristotle was the abstract philosopher, Plato the grounded and practical one.  If you ‘get this,’ you’ll save yourself a lot of confusion and heartache.  If you like rules, it doesn’t get any better than this:

Having thus distinguished the parts, let us now consider the proper construction of the Fable or Plot, as that is at once the first and the most important thing in Tragedy. We have laid it down that a tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete in itself, as a whole of some magnitude, for a whole may be of no magnitude to speak of. Now a whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end. A beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else, and which has naturally something else after it; an end is that which is naturally after something itself, either as its necessary and consequent, and with nothing else after it; and a middle, that which is by nature after one thing and has also another after it. A well-constructed Plot, therefore, cannot either begin or end at any point one likes; beginning and end in it must be of the forms just described. Again: to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a certain definite magnitude. Beauty is a matter of size and order, and therefore impossible either in a very minute creature…or in a creature of vast size—one, say, 1,000 miles long.

No critic today could write “this must” and “this is impossible” about such fundamental things, but it is good somebody did—for now we can blame Aristotle for “Quietism” and those neanderthals who sell, and everything else. 

2. The Republic—Plato 

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Plato and Aristotle is that they weren’t German.  Both are clear. The practical nature of Plato—who dared, without a shred of sentimentality, to put poetry in the context of society—is inescapable.  Randall Jarrell, John Dewey, and Helen Vendler are pumpkins next to Socrates.  If you haven’t digested The Republic, (or the Symposium, or the Ion) you can’t have a conversation about art or literature; you’re blowing bubbles.

3.  Vita Nuova—Dante

Yes, it has a lot of poetry—good literary criticism usually does.  It also has a story and mystery and passion and zero academic pretense. Beyond all that, it’s a guide to writing intelligible verse.  Dante is the passionate combination of the soul of Aristotle and the body of Plato.

4.  The Sonnets—Shakespeare

Irked by the didactic nature of these poems?  Let your eyes be opened.  We reveal here the long-lost secret.  This famous sonnet sequence (Auden is wrong; it does have an order) is Literary Criticism at its very highest— perhaps the greatest ever written.  Study this book.

5.  Essay on Criticism—Pope

Enlightenment jewel of Literary Criticism.  A fountain of wit. It will sharpen your musical ear, too. Poetry never sounded so coldly sublime.  Criticism never sounded so warmly effusive.

6.  A Defense of Poetry—Shelley

Forget all those other defenses. This one has defensive backs who weigh 300 pounds. Romanticsm deserves a soaring document like Shelley’s—the Wordsworth School (O treason!) would clip Shelley’s wings with socialist-tinged pedantry.  Don’t let it.

7.  Philosophy of Composition—Poe

Like all great great criticsm, this document is a shadow created by divine poetry too bright to read. Lurking behind Criticism is the Poem, lurking behind the philosophy of Plato is the poem of Plato, lurking behind the created is the creator, known only in the space between them. Those who indignantly sputter (and they are legion): “B-b-but P-p-poe can’t say that!” reveal themselves as sheep. Poe is damned for being too formalist, too abstract, too mathematical, just as Plato is, when both are, in fact, the most practical critics we have. America’s Classical Restraint is demonstrated for the world by Emerson’s quiet attack on Poe in his famous essay,”The Poet.”

8.  The Sacred Wood—T.S Eliot

Pre-Raphaelite Criticism comes to fruition in this document of High-Church, Harvard-educated, Anglo-American, Arnoldian, anti-Romantic, French Decadent Modernism.  Eliot is the most concentrated and toxic drink of the literature of decay. Rimbaud’s dying Romanticism sickens us after a while with sweet excess; Eliot, however, flatters our institutional pride; Eliot is the devil as the well-dressed, soft-spoken gentleman; Rimbaud’s decadence we can finally keep at arm’s length, but Eliot worms his way into our intelligence; cunningly selective, he is a finishing school for academic slyness, a how-to guide for freezing-out the passionate past with New Criticial hypocrisy.  The undergound streams of Poe and Emerson combined to create a weird Third: a strange specimen of hostile suavity.  Eliot is the pendulum swinging from ‘the sugar of poetry hiding the medicine of learning’  to ‘the medicine of poetry hiding the sugar of learning.’  (The smart ones keep clear of this pendulum entirely.)

9.  Poets In A Landscape—Gilbert Highet

Archaeological criticism—the plain approach to Criticism is exemplified by this sweet evocation of poetry as stories of people in history, in this case, 7 ancient Roman poets. A classical scholar, professor Highet, who translates the poetic examples in this book, was born in Scotland, and was a beloved teacher at Columbia from 1937 to 1972. While his colleagues were exploiting the rise of the Creative Writing business model, or indulging in Nietzchean, Deconstructive, post-Modernist frenzy, professor Highet made an excursion to Italy and wrote this beautiful book, which treats poetry as the result of not only the structure of the Latin elegaic couplet, or the relation of Catullus to Caesar and the woman who broke his heart, but the very surrounding air.

10.  The Burden of the Past and the English Poet—W. Jackson Bate

The document of self-conscious Modernism—by an 18th century expert aware of how belated Romanticsm and Modernism really are. (Beating Harold Bloom’s far less readable Anxiety of Influence to the punch by several years, he made Bloom belated, as well.)  If the modern sensibility is a guilty evasion of the past, if Modernism is nothing but the paranoia of that evasion in the scream of a butterfly, The Burden of the Past is the reasonable antidote to this anxiety.  This little book (a collection of four lectures, in fact)  is so sane and broad in its approach, and unites so many authors and eras in its universal theme, that it will substantially increase anyone’s literary I.Q. in one or two readings.  It’s one of those books in which you’ll feel the need to pick up a highlighter, but it will be useless, because you’ll end up highlighting every line.

ARE MEN SUPERIOR TO WOMEN? CAN CAROL MUSKE-DUKES GIVE STEPHEN DUNN THE KISS OF DEATH?

The-Kiss-of-Death

Can Carol Muske-Dukes make it three out of four women in Scarriet’s 2011 March Madness APR Final Four?  Does she have what it takes to beat Stephen Dunn?  Both of their poems concern kisses, and maybe this is typical, maybe not—the man’s is a wild desire for one, the woman’s an actual dull one.

Women poets have done extremely well in the Scarriet March Madness Tournament, despite the pool being typically under-represented by women in the APR anthology, The Body Electric.  The split in the APR anthology is about 70/30 in favor of the men—yet 10 women poets reached the Scarriet Sweet Sixteen.

Vida has made headlines in American Letters recently by simply publishing some inescapable statistics: the percentages of women writers published in major literary magazines and anthologies—and the numbers are not good for women, especially in essays, criticism and poetry: women trail men in the Fine Arts of Letters—poetry and essays—by two to one.

We’re not talking about construction jobs, or all-time sports heroes, or U.S. presidents, or 19th century composers, or Italian homemakers. We’re talking about U.S. poetry and criticism in 2011: two to one in favor of men.  These numbers are staggering, and should be a wake up call to women everywhere.

The overall author split is 60/40 in favor of men, not too horrible, but in terms of reviewing (or criticism) the ratio is 4/1 in favor of men, and as Vida showed, the ratio of reviewing in The New York Review of Books is 5/1 in favor of men.  As we get more high-brow, as we get more intellectual, as we get more opinionated, as we get more philosophical, the women flounder, in terms of representation.

For every Harold Bloom, there’s a Helen Vendler or a Camille Paglia, for every Billy Collins, there’s a Mary Oliver or a Louise Gluck, for every John Ashbery, there’s a Jorie Graham or a Kay Ryan , for every Seamus Heaney, there’s a Sharon Olds or a Margaret Atwood. 

Generally, women have had great success in writing, and, in numbers of readers, women are surely equal, or very close to men, just in terms of literacy.  Women are well-placed in the readership and marketplace of Fine Letters; there is no craven, muscle-bound machismo element keeping them down.

Why, then, are the women so woeful and backwards in these key areas of poetry and essays and reviewing and criticism?

So, girls, what the fuck is wrong with you?

Criticism is the Head of Letters.  If you’re not reviewing consistently, or writing philosophical essays, or making your opinions known about writers and writing, then what do you expect?

We know you have opinions about nearly everything—why not writing?   You are nearly 50/50 in fiction, and fiction is great, but we all know most fiction is either thinly disguised diary and memoir or vampires having sex with each other. If Criticism is the Head, Fiction is the Rear.  And, in terms of opinions about writing, we don’t mean sweet, supportive blurbs for the sisters—we mean real criticism.

And here’s the thing: if you won’t write essays or reviews or philosophy or criticism, you’ll never change these numbers.

Vida, your numbers are shocking, but what do they really mean?  And how are we going to make those numbers better?

Any ideas, girls?

I recently found myself having an email dialogue, quite by chance, with one of the founders of Vida, whose stated mission is “to explore cultural and critical perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities.”

The conversation came about because she, the Vida founder, wanted clarification from me concerning gossip linking her to a powerful male poet mentor.  But such talk does not belong in public.  It has that smell which consigns it to the garbage pail. Robert B__ eloping with EB is glorious. Put it on the front page. Professor B__ helping to market EB’s poems?  Eh, not so glorious.

But every consideration, glorious or not, involving men, women and Letters has an impact every day on the cold facts of Vida’s statistics.  Somewhere, between the numbers, and the sorry state of things which those numbers point to, are actual stories involving actual men and women. Do we dare speak these stories and these names? Or do we traffic forever in statistics and polite reactions to them?

We can’t run from theses numbers, but we can run from the truth—of its smelly and corrupt windings—which those numbers signify.

Or, we can follow Ariadne’s thread; we can do the patient, historical work of patiently examining the lives of actual literary men and women, and what it finally means, philosophically.

Here’s an example: Elizabeth Barrett was an extraordinary poet, and better known than the male poet who eventually eclipsed her, Robert Browning.  When Mr. Browning came courting in 1845, Elizabeth was the famous poet, not Robert, and she had already published, to much acclaim, the type of dramatic poem Robert Browning would later glory in.  This is not to diminish the remarkable Mr. Browning, but only to point out how Miss Barrett fell under Browning’s shadow.  Barrett was depicted in the modern era as a rescued recluse known for one poem penned—to Browning, which fit right into the Victorian stereotype.  Who perpetuates such stereotypes?  The critics.  And the critics are men. Elizabeth Barrett Browning fades away, and takes with her a more accurate picture of the Victorian period, a richer selection of poetry, and a powerful example of a powerful woman poet.  All the male critics had to do was refute the Victorian era.  Women are larger-than-life figures—unless they are reduced by abstract critical thinking which rejects, in the name of “modern progress,” the actual life of women in the past.  The “progressives” are then insidiously reactionary.  All ahistoricism is reactionary.  Let us have improvements, but please let’s not pre-suppose that means chucking history.

A second example: Edna Millay, who wrote sonnets as good as any in the history of literature, was abused in the press by Ezra Pound’s clique: Hugh Kenner and Horace Gregory, to name two. We all know how one well-placed review can harry and destroy. This is the sort of ugly side of Letters which might be characterized as gossip, but we demean Letters by being squemish—so that we brush the ugly side of Letters under the rug. Unfortunately, thugs and bullies exist in “polite literature.”  But the bigger problem is, that because Pound and his group was associated with a certain avant-garde progressivism, “make it new” and all that, critics are not always objective in writing literary history or making critical judgments.  Because there is this excitable and revolutionary assumption that the avant-garde is always liberal and forward-thinking, we are blind to when the opposite is true.

It’s not too late to undo these mistakes, since literature always has a past, and is always being made anew within the context of that past.  But if women are on avant train they think is going in the right direction, but is not, those Vida numbers could get even worse.

One more example: Elinor Wylie (1885-1928) is a marvelous poet, an amazing, crazy, lyrical, predecessor to Plath and Sexton, but like MillayWylie fell off the Parade Float of Modernism.  The better-known American women poets, who were quietly conservative, such as Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, were close to Pound’s clique or Robert Lowell; actually, Moore was Bishop’s mentor, and Robert Lowell fell in quickly with Pound’s group via Tate and Ransom, so it’s all pretty cozy.  Wylie is a strong, but neglected, poet who would appeal to the same audience inspired by Sexton, and it certainly does not diminish a poet like Sexton to comprehend the significance of Wylie as her influence.  (Another neglected poet if we go back futher: Ellen Wheeler Wilcox.) Women in Letters will be hurt if women don’t celebrate good women poets right under their nose, or they only celebrate women poets annointed by men.  When it comes to literature, networking in the present can only go so far. Knowing history is invaluable.

So here’s the advice, so far.  1. Be critical, not timid and polite. 2. Be historical, intensely so; follow historical threads back to motivations, and groups who act clandestinely and corruptly.  These historical phenomena tend to be the rule, not the exception.  If the women say, “Leave the conspiracies to the men,” the women will only suffer accordingly, and the Vida numbers will get worse.

As far as The New York Review of Books, which we now know is 80% male, thanks to Vida, women, I think, would make an important statement if they boycotted that magazine, rather than pleading to be let in. The New York Review stats should not be read as an indication of failure by women, but rather as a failure by the New York Review, a scholarly failure, since the editors are infatuated with the very Modernism school that joyfully throws poets like Barrett, Millay and Wylie under the bus, and they review the same handful of canonized figures over and over again.  The researchers at Vida should analyze a few issues of the New York Review, and discover for everyone not just the numbers, but the faulty philosophy, history and scholarship.  Remember: Criticism, ladies, criticism!  Get in the face of the New York Review!  And enjoy doing it!  Letting the 5/1 ratio just sit there without comment, after the initial gasps, implies that women lack the talent to write for the New York Review and women better get cracking and improve themselves!  Is this the impression Vida wants to give?  No!  Go on the offense!

And speaking of offense, Carol Muske-Dukes, in her poem, “A Former Love, a Lover of Form,” is not particularly nice, which is not necessarily a bad thing:

When they kiss,
she feels a certain revulsion,
and as they continue to kiss

She’s trapped by a dull kiss.  She’s a victim.

The following sounds too much like all that bad confessional poetry composed in the 1970s:

Her glasses fall forward on her nose,
her mouth opens: all around
are objects that desire, suddenly, her.

Not just clothes, but open doorways,
love seats, Mother’s bright red
espadrilles kicked off in the damp grass.

The poem ends with more puzzlement and complaining:

 Is she seducer or seduced?

And which is worse,
a dull lover’s kiss or the embrace
of his terrible laundry?

She’d rather have the book
he wrote than him.

The Stephen Dunn poem features a narrator questioned by a crowd, and gender is completely hidden.  It also features a mysterious, yearning self-sacrificing love.

What They Wanted

They wanted me to tell the truth,
so I said I’d lived among them,
for years, a spy,
but all that I wanted was love.
They said they couldn’t love a spy.
Couldn’t I tell them other truths?
I said I was emotionally bankrupt,
would turn any of them in for a kiss.
I told them how a kiss feels
when it’s especially undeserved;
I thought they’d understand.
They wanted me to say I was sorry,
so I told them I was sorry.
They didn’t like it that I laughed.
They asked what I’d seen them do,
and what I do with what I know.
I told them: find out who you are
before you die.
Tell us, they insisted, what you saw.
I saw the hawk kill a smaller bird.
I said life is one long leavetaking.
They wanted me to speak
like a journalist. I’ll try, I said.
I told them I could depict the end
of the world, and my hand wouldn’t tremble.
I said nothing’s serious except destruction.
They wanted to help me then.
They wanted me to share with them,
that was the word they used, share.
I said it’s bad taste
to want to agree with many people.
I told them I’ve tried to give
as often as I’ve betrayed.
They wanted to know my superiors,
to whom did I report?
I told them I accounted to no one,
that each of us is his own punishment.
If I love you, one of them cried out,
what would you give up?
There were others before you,
I wanted to say, and you’d be the one
before someone else. Everything, I said.

Stephen Dunn wins!  Stephen Dunn is in the Final Four!

A CONSPIRACY OF A CONSPIRACY

Helen Vendler titled one of her books, “The Music Of What Happens,” a quote from the poet Seamus Heaney, whom she greatly admires.

But music doesn’t happen—music which moves us has an inevitable quality, just as mathematical science reveals nature’s permanence to our rolling eyes, just as beautiful verses make their statement like stone.

Leslie Scalapino, vying for Sweet Sixteen against Carolyn Creedon, is the supreme poet of what happens.  APR excerpted Ms. Scalapino’s that they were at the beach—one of four long parts in their anthology The Body Electric, source of Scarriet’s 2011 March (May) Madness Tournament.  I laughed when I read this:

Beginning to honk, because a man in a car behind me looked as if he were going to take my parking space, it’s near shops, is crowded—I honked before seeing that he’s old.  And it appearing he hadn’t wanted the parking place.

Here is poetry that happens, and this is Scalapino’s genius—no poetry happens quite like hers.  It lives in the present—reading her poem you think along with her in the present.  If poetry is news that stays news, Scalapino is the most up-to-the-minute news of all, because no one immerses you in happening right now like her.

As we pointed out during her second-round victory,  Scalapino’s poetry is nerdy and helpless and sensitive—which makes her absolutely adorable; she is so much in the present, the poem always moving forward so engagingly and innocently and vigilantly and anxiously and hopelessly, that as ‘experimental’ as perhaps this is, I actually enjoy reading her.

It would be a mistake, however, to think of Scalapino’s poetry( “I’m not retroactive—corresponds to making jokes because it’s in the past”) as bizarre or mysterious, because it’s the opposite of that—it’s plain to an extreme degree.  It represents the anti-spiritual, the anti-intellectual, the plain person who just wants to belong to the world in a plain way.

If you want what happens, read Scalapino.

If you want inevitable, read Creedon.

We read “Litany” by Carolyn Creedon with wonder and horror.  Its end is contained in its beginning.  We knew her poem had to end this way.

The details of Creedon’s poem come to us, not as events that are happening, as in that they were at the beach, but as images from a dream, which we turn over in our minds long afterwards.

The Tom of Creedon’s poem will love the narrator nevermore.

The Scalapino washes over us.  It is essentially comic.

The Creedon haunts us.  It is essentially tragic.

This whole Osama Bin Laden business:  not only is it rooted in horror and tragedy, but it has a secret, conspiratorial aspect. There are temperaments that look for conspiracy—and here we might genius, or we might find paranoia.  Usually paranoia—but we never should dissuade genius.  A conspiracy of a conspiracy is a natural development, for facts matter less in puzzling politicial matters than the factions it inevitably creates, with one side content they do not believe in conspiracies, and the other side tortured that they do.

Creedon’s poem speaks to the torture, Scalapino’s to the blandness associated with existing beneath the status quo in a world of sense experience—a world without conspiracy that happens by chance.

Creedon’s poem thinks: it was inevitable that Tom would leave me.

In this torture is a certain kind of art’s highest pleasure.

Creedon defeats Scalapino 101-100.

It had to be.

Right?

I’m only Tom, cheering helplessly from the stands.

litany

Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant?
i will let you make me a sandwich of your invention and i will eat it and call
it a carolyn sandwich. then you will kiss my lips and taste the mayonnaise and
that is how you shall love me in my restaurant

Tom, will you come to my empty beige apartment and help me set up my daybed?
yes, and i will put the screws in loosely so that when we move on it, later,
it will rock like a cradle and then you will know you are my baby

Tom, I am sitting on my dirt bike on the deck. Will you come out from the kitchen
and watch the people with me?
yes, and then we will race to your bedroom. i will win and we will tangle up
on your comforter while the sweat rains from our stomachs and foreheads

Tom, the stars are sitting in tonight like gumball gems in a little girl’s
jewelry box. Later can we walk to the duck pond?
yes, and we can even go the long way past the jungle gym. i will push you on
the swing, but promise me you’ll hold tight. if you fall i might disappear

Tom, can we make a baby together? I want to be a big pregnant woman with a loved face and give you a squalling red daughter.
no, but i will come inside you and you will be my daughter

Tom, will you stay the night with me and sleep so close that we are one person?
no, but i will lay down on your sheets and taste you. there will be feathers
of you on my tongue and then i will never forget you

Tom, when we are in line at the convenience store can I put my hands in your
back pockets and my lips and nose in your baseball shirt and feel the crook
of your shoulder blade?
no, but later you can lay against me and almost touch me and when i go i will
leave my shirt for you to sleep in so that always at night you will be pressed
up against the thought of me

Tom, if I weep and want to wait until you need me will you promise that someday
you will need me?
no, but i will sit in silence while you rage. you can knock the chairs down
any mountain. i will always be the same and you will always wait

Tom, will you climb on top of the dumpster and steal the sun for me? It’s just
hanging there and I want it.
no, it will burn my fingers. no one can have the sun: it’s on loan from god.
but i will draw a picture of it and send it to you from richmond and then you
can smooth out the paper and you will have a piece of me as well as the sun

Tom, it’s so hot here, and I think I’m being born. Will you come back from
Richmond and baptise me with sex and cool water?
i will come back from richmond. i will smooth the damp spiky hairs from the
back of your wet neck and then i will lick the salt off it. then i will leave

Tom, Richmond is so far away. How will I know how you love me?
i have left you. that is how you will know

Carolyn Creedon

WE SAW IT COMING AND NOW THE FACELESS COMMITTEE HAS SPOKEN: IT’S MERWIN

In Scarriet’s latest Hot 100 List (May 28, 2010) we put Merwin at no. 25 and said “the oil spill has moved Merwin way up the list.”

(For some strange reason, Franz Wright found Scarriet’s bit of insight infuriatingComment #13: “The words on Merwin actually take you to the level of obscenity and genuine evil.” –FW)  ???

Today, July 1, the New York Times wrote:

“Some will call his selection now safe, dull, uncontroversial, blah. And they’ll have a point. It is not the kind of choice that makes one leap up and blow hard into a vuvuzela.

But Mr. Merwin’s appointment is potentially inspired. He is an exacting nature poet, a fierce critic of the ecological damage humans have wrought. Helen Vendler, writing last year in The New York Review of Books, called him ‘the prophet of a denuded planet.’ With the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico becoming more dread and apocalyptic by the hour, Mr. Merwin may be a poet we’ll need.”

OK, sure, a bit of a no-brainer, but just a little more proof that Scarriet’s got the zeitgeist covered, baby! 

WALLACE STEVENS IS VERY, VERY HAPPY

Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens.  Frost is currently third in the AL race.

The surprising Hartford Stevens have won 5 straight and have the best record in the Baseball Scarriet American League.

Led by hurlers George Santayana (5-0) and Helen Vendler (4-1) and the bats of Valery, Mallarme, John Hollander, and James Merrill, Wallace Stevens is sitting pretty with a 14-6 record.  No team in the 2010 Scarriet Poetry Baseball League has more wins than Hartford. (AL)  The Whittiers play for Hartford in the NL.

Since losing 8-3 to Scofield Thayer, starting pitcher for the Cambridge Cummings, the Stevens have outscored their opponents 31-9.

We caught up with Hartford owner/manager Wallace Stevens and asked him a few questions in his Hartford home:

Scarriet:  So how does it feel to own a baseball team?

Stevens:  I like baseball.  It’s gentle… compared to some of the… other sports.

Scarriet:  Are you surprised by your team’s early success?

Stevens:  Well, my old teacher (at Harvard), George Santayana (Hartford’s ace pitcher) told me if that if I could sign Helen (Vendler) and Marjorie (Perloff) to our starting rotation and fill the roster with people like Lewis Carroll and Paul Valery and MallarmeSatie, the musician…that we could probably beat anybody…

Scarriet:  So never underestimate intelligence and charm?

Stevens:  (Laughing) That’s right.   We don’t have a lot of real big names, like Keats…Shakespeare… Dante and Horace…but our team does have a lot of great, great talent.

Scarriet:  Did you hear that Mr. Cummings just signed Freud and Darwin?

Stevens:   I heard that was in the works.  Did he sign them?  Really?  That’s extraordinary.

Scarriet:  Well, let’s talk more about your team. Did you expect John Hollander and James Merrill to hit like they have?

Stevens:  Oh, well, the Americans on this club really get along with the Europeans…it’s a very happy bunch…we just signed Toulouse Lautrec, and he was making everyone laugh in the clubhouse yesterday…we’re having fun…I’m really having fun.

Scarriet:  That helps you win?

Stevens:  Oh, yes, absolutely.

Scarriet:  What if Vendler had decided to play with the Iowa City Grahams instead of your ballclub?

Stevens:  I didn’t have to convince Helen to play for me.  She practically begged!   She didn’t have to, of course…I adore Helen.   She was the first name that came up when George (Santayana) and I talked about putting together our team.

Scarriet:  She’s pitching today.  Are you excited?

Stevens:  It’s a thrill to watch Helen pitch.  I’m very excited.

Interview by Marla Muse

SCARRIET LEARNS OF JORIE GRAHAM BAP MARCH MADNESS PETITION

Scarriet has learned of a petition protesting Jorie Graham’s Best American Poetry tournament position as a 16th seed, saying the Harvard Humanities Chair professor and Pulitzer-prize winning poet ought to be a top-seeded choice in the 2010 March Madness competition.

The petition is signed by Seamus Heaney, Helen Vendler, Harold Bloom, Robert Pinsky, John Ashbery, Peter Sacks, James Galvin,  James Wright, Marvin Bell, Joshua Clover, Bin Ramke, Don Share, Joan Houlihan, Brad Pitt, Michele Glazer, Joanna Klink, and Mark Levine, earning tens of thousands of Poetry MFA student signatures across the land.

The Best American Poetry March Madness Committee released a brief statement in response:  “We have not officially released the 2010 brackets.  When released, our choices are final.”

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.”

WHO KILLED JOHN KEATS? ‘TWAS ONE OF MY FEATS

Pardon us as we take a fanciful page from the book of George Gordon, Lord Byron.

……………………….WHO KILLED ROBERT CREELEY?

……………………….Who killed Robert Creeley?
……………………….Twas I, Foetry. Yes. Really.
……………………….Now exiled here by the site that bans
……………………….We’ve dealt a mortal blow to Franz.
……………………….You cannot know where your reputation’s laid,
……………………….Or who pays you, at last, and who finally is paid.
……………………….Beware, you swaggerer, with cred and name
……………………….Who comes to quell: first, you lose, then, you swell our fame.

Franz Wright’s recent visit to Scarriet reminded us of the time when Robert Creeley came calling on Foetry.com shortly before he passed away in March of 2005.

John Keats was treated so rudely by the press a rumor began that a harsh criticism had killed him.   The poet is the most vulnerable to criticism since the poet and the critic both use words.   Poetry, by its very nature, has a It is so because I say it is so existence.   Words are cheap, and the poetry world is small.  Poetic reputations are fragile and can disappear overnight.

Longfellow was a wealthy titan whose poems were widely read in expensive and beautiful volumes.  Poe was a poverty-stricken, contentious critic who insulted and berated poets like Longfellow;  Poe was reviled by many literary elites of his day.   Poe, however, now towers over Longfellow and poets who are utterly forgotten.   Those who ‘go about their business’ and who are ‘above’ the sort of battles Poe indulged in usually sink into oblivion.   The trouble-makers survive.

Alan Cordle’s revolutionary Foetry.com turned po-biz on its head almost overnight with his controversial claims.  Controversy is catnip to fame.  Perhaps  Creeley and Wright knew what they were doing when they jumped in the Foetry dirt.

Flowers (and fame) need dirt to grow.

Thomas Brady of Scarriet was obviously out of his mind, temporarily, let’s hope, when he wrote the following as Monday Love on Foetry.com:

And what’s this crap about how a “librarian” [Alan Cordle] can’t express an opinion on poetry or the poetry world?  Jeez, what a lot of snobby rot. Since when did degrees and publishing creds and ‘official poet’ stamped on the forehead decide who can or cannot speak on poetry?  Did Keats have an MFA?  Philip Sidney, one of the world’s most prominent poets, never published a poem.  And what of Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler?  I can’t find any of their poems, but the world bows to their opinion.  If some twit gets an MFA and publishes a few books of obscure poetry scribbles, that twit should then have some kind of authority because of his CV?

No, poetry is naturally fitted for something more democratic and honest. R. Perlman [since discovered to be  Joan Houlihan] disgraces himself [herself] when he [she]indulges in this ‘poetry-cred’ nonsense–99% of the time such a gambit is merely an attempt to paper over stink.  I have never asked what his [her] creds are, nor do I care.  Those who come here trailing the glory of their creds in their wake tend to get slaughtered.  We don’t care who they are.  Robert Creeley came here and was treated like anyone else–in other words, a bit roughly.  We don’t care for that phony ‘respect,’ which the pompous desire.  Only the argument you make here counts.

Poetry was invented so that the learned could speak to the unlearned. Poetry is for the unlearned ear, because it had its origins, as Dante points out in his Vita Nuova, in the following circumstance: the learned fop was mad for some illiterate serving girl and therefore had to remove all that was phony and elevated in his speech to reach her heart.  The opinion which the poet craves is always the simplest and heart-felt one.  The ‘learned’ opinion is not to be trusted, finally.  Every poet in secret knows this.  This does not mean the poet writes simplistic twaddle, for the poet still must impress in a powerful manner, but that manner is not learned fops stroking each other’s learned egos, which only ruins the art.

—Monday Love, Foetry.com  2007

It is not our intent to dance on anybody’s grave.

We salute Mr. Creeley for not going gentle into that good night.

And God bless Franz Wright, too.

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)

PEDANTS OF POETRY: THE TOP TEN

~
~

Paul Valery (top), Polonius & T.S. Eliot

The last 100 years have seen more pedantry in poetry than in any other age.

Remember when poetry as a topic brought out the best in thinkers?

Socrates may be a villain to many poets, but Platonic arguments are grand, necessary, and…poetic.

Horace and Aristotle laid groundwork so vital we can overlook their pedantic natures.

Dante’s Vita Nuova is without the pretence of pedantry.

Shakespeare, another enemy of pedantry, made it a popular trope: Rozencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius in one play alone.

Pope and Swift fought pedantry as a natural impulse.

Burns, Byron, Keats, Shelley and Poe were against it in their souls.

Yeats, at his best, displayed a hatred of pedantry: “Old, learned respectable bald heads edit and annotate lines…”

These artists are practically defined by their opposition to pedantry.

Something went wrong in the 20th century, however, as Manifesto-ism became a way to get attention in a field of diminishing returns

Here’s Scarriet’s Top Ten Pedant List:

1. Yvor Winters

Claimed the formal is moral, while convincing himself that Allen Tate’s poetry was better than Shelley’s.

2.  Harold Bloom

A pedant’s pedant’s pedant.   Shakespeare’s great—OK, we get it.

3. Jacques Derrida

One part Nietszche, one part William James, one part Analytic Philosophy, one part New Criticism, one part absinthe.

4. Ezra Pound

“Make it new” is a very old pedantry.

5. Cleanth Brooks

Ransom and Warren kept him around to feel like geniuses by comparison.

6. T.S. Eliot

Hated Hamlet.   Afflicted with Dissociation of Verse Libre.

7. Allen Tate

Modernism’s Red-neck traveling salesman.

8. Helen Vendler

A drab sitting room with a Wallace Stevens poster.

9. Charles Bernstein

“Official Verse Culture” was in his own mind.

10. Paul Valery

Always too correct.  Proves the rule that Poe sounds better in French than modern French poetry sounds in English.

BONUS—11. Charles Olson

Take a deep breath.  And blow.

–T. Brady

A DEFENSE OF POETRY…SORT OF.

A great deal of 19th century verse is wretched—exposure to poorly written rhyme will naturally push the educated poetry lover from the vales of tortured song to the stairwells of sober speech.

Verse was abandoned by educated poets in the 20th century because the versifiers fell out of tune—not because poetry evolved into something higher.   

Frazzled, goaded and tuckered out by Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, with no more heart for Bret Harte, audiences everywhere cried Geez! and So Long! to George Santayana and the other thousand rhyming and chiming poetasters, tossing the simpering, milk & water verse out the window.   (Santayana was T.S. Eliot’s professor at Harvard).  

Throwing off rhyme was not a revolution. 

It was a revulsion.

The yellowish face of Imagism’s moon was not a sign of mystical glory; it was a sign of illness and disgust.

Music coming from instruments only a little out of tune will soon convince hearers to give up all music.

Imagism was a retreat, not an advance. 

Poetry in the 20th century did not add image—it subtracted music. 

The great poets of verse featured imagery and music, skillfully blended into a natural, pleasing speech so that neither speech, imagery, nor music was perceived as such–the elements were blended and lost in the poetry. 

Lost so that no ‘close reading’ can get it out. 

Criticism finds the elements when they are not blended; if they are, criticism cannot see them, for the work succeeds and doesn’t require criticism

 The close reading of the New Critics was mistaken from the start, since it confused desultory, over-elaborated praise with criticism.  New Criticism finally ends in the Prozac Criticism of the Helen Vendlers and the Stephen Burts.

Too much focus on any part—image, language, irony, etc—is a sure sign poetry is in decline.

We’re not sure why–after the renaissance of verse in English from the 16th century sonnet mastery to the 17th century of Milton, Donne, Marvel, to the 18th of Pope, and then Burns, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Byron, Coleridge, with writers like Poe bringing Baconic science (with a Platonic sheen) to the art, and Tennyson carrying the flame–why the whole art sickened and died sometime during the middle or latter part of the 19th century. 

It may have been for a very simple reason. 

In the 19th century more people began to write and publish poetry.

There was a glut, and gluts will destroy whatever style currently exists.   

Those who complain contemporary poetry is prosy and dull usually champion the 19th century and its rhyme.  

But the issue is not a stylistic one.  It is simpler than that.   A glut destroyed poetry as it currently existed—first in the 19th century, when poetry rhymed, and then in the 20th century, when poetry didn’t.  The Quarterly didn’t kill Keats.  Sidney Lanier did. 

Those who could not write like Keats eventually decided no one should write like Keats—or none should try, because one more Sidney Lanier would be the death of poetry itself.   William Carlos Williams—when he reached middle-age and stopped rhyming—suddenly became vastly preferable to Sidney Lanier, at least among educated readers. 

Poetry–the art–could not handle one more failed Keats.  William Carlos Williams did not conquer Keats.   He was simply a sobering balm to the intoxicating pain of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman.  The 20th century stopped rhyming, not out of evolution, but from embarrassment. 

Rather than fail at Keats, it was necessary for the pride of the poet in the 20th century to partially succeed at haiku—and the whole history of modernism is nothing but extended haiku: even modern long poems are nothing but haiku patched together and embellished with flotsam and dialogue–breaking haiku’s rules, but not the rules of poetry—in any significant way. 

Our idea is supported by the following:  From the beginnings of poetry in English to the first confirmed glut in the early 19th century, a good poem was never a theoretical specimen; it was good in a way that was socially recognized by everyone: A 16th century Shakespeare song, a 19th century Keats ballad.   Then came the glut, and millions of would-be Shakespeares and Keats’s made rhyme come to seem the playing of an out-of-tune violin.  

The public gradually fled from the poem–not because the novel took them away, but because the public ran from the art of poetry holding its ears.   The modern novel was not an improvement so much as a refuge, and fortunately for that genre, poetry, by mishandling verse, was at that very moment chasing away readers as it had never done before. 

And bad rhyme did not end after Modernism–one can find it in Richard Aldington’s 1941 anthology: Allen Tate, William Carlos Williams’ only poem represented is a rhyming poem; there’s bad rhyme galore.  

Fashions die hard, but when they die, it’s sometimes not the fashion that’s at fault, but the mediocrities practicing it.

THE PROZAC CRITIC

In a recent article, Poetry and Project Runway, on the Poetry Foundation’s Website, Stephen Burt, some guy who attended Oxford and Harvard and now is trying to be the next Helen Vendler (see Scarriet’s piece on the Dr. Phil of Criticism)  defends his rosy view that a criticism is not a criticism—that critics should ignore the bad.   Scarriet recently pointed out that this is like telling a philosopher to ignore the bad.  Put this way, Burt’s rosy view appears silly, which is proper.

In this essay, Burt uses the TV show Project Runway as a platform for his pedantry.

“Project Runway,” Burt informs us, “holds lessons for poetry critics,” but first we must learn “how the TV show works.”

Contestants design clothes.

Judges judge.

Enter Stephen Burt with ill-fitting analogy.

Ron Silliman has examined the show at length” and “a poetry blogger from New Zealand” has blogged on the idea of “Poetry Runway,”  so Burt is ready to launch. [click here]

Ruffles, buttons, ribbons, white T-shirt, striped button-down, jacket…ready.

“Poets, like clothes designers, love technical challenges.”

Design a dress made from newspaper.  Write a poem about a red wheel barrow.  OK.

I.A. Richards, Burt informs us, encouraged his students to make “snap judgments” on “unfamiliar poems” in an exercise of “Practical Criticism.”

Judging is Fun.   Alright.   So far, so good.

But now Burt wades into deeper waters.

And is quickly in over his head.

Happily reveling in the fact that TV overlapping poetry is pretty cool, Burt reaches for his drug of choice:

The happy drug, designed by the Lilly pharmaceutical company.

Prozac.

“Aspects of the TV show,” he tells us, make him “uneasy” in terms of “how we judge poems.”

The show, Burt warns, tends to highlight “contestants who flounder.”

Oh, no!

Criticism. Not good in the world of Stephen Burt.

Burt informs us what works on TV–and “rightly so” (Burt doesn’t want to appear as a scold)–are “flagrant failures” and “life stories.”

A TV show, Burt admits, “devoted wholly to winners’ techniques—how to sew this and pleat that, how to get collars right—might not even make sense to me.”

Now Burt gets down to the nitty-gritty:

“Those truths [popular appeal of negative focus and life stories] affect, not only the judging of hurriedly-assembled cocktail dresses on television, but the reading and reviewing of new poems. The broader the audience, or potential audience, the harder it is to talk about technique, and the more tempting it is to fall back on the poet’s life: Keats‘s tuberculosis, or his failed romance with Fanny Brawne; Robert Browning‘s successful romance with Elizabeth; Emily Dickinsons isolation (so often exaggerated); William Carlos Williamss medical practice, and so on.”

Burt’s reasoning is fatally flawed on two counts.

1. Does he really believe reviews of “new poems” are marred by reports of medical ills and romantic intrigues?  When is the last time a review of a new book of poems came down the pike with delicious details of the poet’s love life?  Is this really an issue, today?  Note that all of Burt’s examples are poets born in the 19th century.   Is it really true that poets born in 1980 are aesthetically challenged–because reviewers and critics keep focusing on their romances?

2. Any legitimate historical, philosophical, and cultural view of Keats that flies above mere New Criticism would obviously need to pay attention to a great deal more than Keats’ “turberculosis.”  (Though someone should tell Mr. Burt it was kind of a big deal—it killed him.)  Meet Mr. Burt’s straw man.  Mr. Burt evades the responsibility of the critic who whould investigate more than “getting collars right” by categorizing biography as “failed romance” or “TB.”  Burt, the New Critic, derides biography, and thus historical scholarship, by diminishing its scope—assuming the topic is little more than sordid gossip.

Burt is most troubled, however, by “the dangerous ease of a focus on failure.”  What does this mean?  Why isn’t he worried about a “dangerous ease of a focus on” glib praise?   The latter is far more prevalent than the former, and surely Burt’s prozac approach to poetry has a lot to do with this bland and sorry state of affairs in the first place.   Burt is like someone who complains of a bean bag’s hardness.

Mr. Burt now sheds the playful attitude he had towards the TV show completely, Silliman’s appreciation be damned:

“Project Runway gets most of its suspense by punishing failures.”

Shades of Blackwoods!   Say it ‘aint so, Professor!

Unable to face even the idea of failure, Burt, seeking out more serotonin, announces: “But it’s not good for readers and critics to treat poets this way.”

Burt demands nice—or else.

Critics must be nice to poets.

Great.  The prozac is kicking in.

Burt quotes Randall Jarrell, saying we should judge poets by good poems.  Well, sure.  Judge poets accomplished by their good poems.  Sort of obvious, isn’t it?  Pope warned against fastidiously finding fault if the poem triumphs as a whole, and this is more to the point: we should protect ourselves against the pedant—but Burt wants to protect us against the truth.

Because Wordsworth wrote dreck at times and was faulted for it, Burt proclaims, “Wordsworth would have never lasted on Project Runway.”   But he did.  He’s Wordsworth.

Now Burt brings out the heavy artillery:  “Reviewers and critics and readers of poetry should consult, first and last, ourselves.”

A noble sentiment, but what if “ourselves” is a prozac buzz?

Finally, the bow-tied New Critic steps from behind the Reality TV curtain:  What is important, Burt intones, is “whether and how poets can make it work.”

The very phrasing is right off the New Criticism rack: doctrinaire, tweedy, and square-jawed, with a whiff of the musty.

A little tip for Stephen Burt (and Helen Vendler):

1. A criticism is a criticism.

2. Criticism should consider everything–the poet’s mentors, associates, politics, in short, the life.

3. Use tact and taste (this goes without saying).

ONE MORE LOOK AT ALABAMA

“Stars fell on Alabama”   –Old song

As promised, here’s the Final Part 5 report on the Alabama ‘What Is Poetry?‘ conference which took place 25 years ago in October.  

What happened at that October 1984  conference, exactly? 

The old guard– Ignatow, Simpson, Levertov, Stern, and Vendler–won the battle, but lost the war.

The Language Poetry team, led by Charles Bernstein and Marjorie Perloff,  scored almost no rhetorical points, and were even humiliated several times in the final group panel discussion.

Charles Bernstein was asked to “name names” of “policemen-poets” running “official verse culture” and could only sheepishly come up with one: T.S. Eliot.  Denise Levertov, with political guns blazing, said Bernstein’s concern for “official verse culture” was parochial and small-minded.  Unable to specify what made her outsider position important or unique, Marjorie Perloff was painted into a corner by Louis Simpson.  At one point Vendler said, to applause, “If you look at the statistics of dissertations done and M.A. theses done all across the face of America today, you will find that overwhelmingly they are done in twentieth-century studies, and the past is in danger of being forgotten altogether by the English departments.”

However, just sharing the stage with the status quo helped Bernstein and Perloff.   In a major capitulation to the barbarians, Helen Vendler conceded a huge point to Bernstein, explicitly agreeing with him that poetry makes language “opaque” and “problematic.” 

Well.

Poetry does not make language “problematic.” 

Poetry does the reverse; poetry overcomes the “problematic” aspect of language—this is why it is poetry! 

But don’t tell that to Vendler or Bernstein, champions of Art’s for Art’s Sake and Language Poetry, respectively.  

Art for Art’s Sake and Language Poetry would seem to be miles apart, but they’re not, actually.  

Both schools are more concerned with “How poetry tells us” than “What poetry tells us.” 

Vendler’s modernism really has little trouble fitting into Bernstein’s post-modernism.  

Erudition for its own sake will suffer from pedantry. 

But even worse than the old-fashioned pedantry—which once characterized the absent-minded English professor of old–is the erudition which attaches itself to a program, to a theoretical framework.  Free and open inquiry may thrive in a pedantic morass, but it never thrives when ideology stacks the deck.  Ideology turns erudition into a monster.

No one can accuse Vendler of being ideological—and this is precisely why her surrender to Bernstein is so harmful.  She did not surrender to his ideology, per se.  She generously and unconsciously abetted post-modernism because she found it intellectually pleasing to find how easily her modernism fit into Bernstein’s post-modernism.

Modernism decided to make poetry “problematic” or “difficult” (T.S. Eliot first ascribed the term “difficult” to modern poetry) in response to all sorts of issues, which, looking back, seem manufactured in light of a certain pessimism bearing down on the age, a heady manifesto-ism in general, and Eliot’s intuitive push towards the erudite and learned.  It was natural for this journey down “Problematic Lane” to lead from the opaque coyness of Wallace Stevens to the utter madness of LANGUAGE poetry.  

Bernstein’s intellectual legacy traces through Stanley Cavell, who was Bernstein’s mentor at Harvard, to J.L. Austin, a member of British Intelligence, who was Cavell’s Harvard professor.

Austin was a Moral Philosopher at Oxford who specialized in language, coining the term “speech acts” to describe speech as action–as opposed to speech as a mere passive agent of description.  Already we can see that—for this school of analytic philosophy—there is no speech which is not opaque and problematic—all speech is shot through with motive and desire, not just poetry.  Vendler, therefore, by conceding that poetry’s role was to “problematize language” was coming over to Bernstein’s turf and surrendering to him without a fight.

‘French theory’ did not only come from France.  It came from Oxford and Cambridge universities.  It came from Bloomsbury. (See G.E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles.)  Modernism and post-modernism have the same parent and are the same age.  Helen Vendler and Charles Bernstein are puppies of the same litter.

LANGPO SLAYS OFFICIAL VERSE CULTURE AS VENDLER GOES OVER TO BERNSTEIN

BAMA PANEL IV:  SURVIVAL OF THE DIMMEST?

The Alabama Panel 25 years ago this month was essentially a high-brow rumble: LangPo taking on Official Verse Culture.

Two heavyweights of LangPo, 53 year old USC Comparative Lit. professor Marjorie Perloff and 34 year old L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E editor Charles Bernstein took on U.K. poet Louis Simpson, 61,  former Nation poetry editor and Black Mountain associated poet, Denise Levertov, 60, David Ignatow, 70, poet and poetry editor of The Nation, Harvard professor Helen Vendler, 51, and Iowa Workshop poet Gerald Stern, 59.

Perloff and Bernstein were on friendly turf, however. 35 year old Hank Lazer, the ‘Bama professor host, was in Bernstein’s camp, as was 30 year old Gregory Jay, punk ‘Bama assistant professor.

Charles Altieri, 41,  professor at U. Washington and recent Fellow at Institute for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto, ostensibly had a foot in each camp, but you could tell his heart was with Perloff and Bernstein.  The match-up was actually 5-5, so LangPo should have counted itself fortunate.

Also at the table 25 years ago was the elder statesman, Kenneth Burke, 87, a coterie member of the original Modernists–winner of the annual Dial Magazine Award in 1928 (other winners of the Dial Award in the 1920s: T.S. Eliot in 1922 for ‘The Waste Land,’ Ezra Pound, WC Williams, E.E. Cummings, and Marianne Moore.)   Burke, chums with figures such as Malcolm Cowley and Allen Tate, was an editor at The New Republic 1929-1944, a radical Marxist, and a symbolism expert–if such a thing is possible.

The poet Donald Hall had been invited and could not attend–submitting in writing for the conference his famous ‘McPoem’ critque of the Workshop culture.

We already looked at how Gerald Stern embarrassed Bernstein by asking him to ‘name names’ when Bernstein raised the issue at the 25 year old panel discussion of ‘poet policemen’ enforcing the dictates of ‘official verse culture’ and Bernstein only coming up with one name: T.S. Eliot.

Then we looked at Vendler asserting the crucial modernist division between timeless criticism and “abrasive” reviewing–with Simpson retorting this was nothing but a status quo gesture on Vendler’s part, with Vendler weakly replying she was fighting the status quo in working to make Wallace Stevens more appreciated.   Then in Part III of this series, we saw how Levertov roared ‘you parochial fools are ignoring race/unprecedented crisis/human extinction.’

Levertov, taking a no-frills Leftist position, and Simpson, with his no-frills aesthetic of pre-interprative Vision, proved too much for the LangPo gang.

Levertov became incensed with professor Jay’s post-modern argument that human language and interpretation are at the heart of human experience: “Bullshit!” Levertov said.  Levertov and Simpson (with Ignatow) argued for universal feeling as primary.

Levertov argued for universal access as the very nature of language; Perloff countered that a small group of people might find meaning in something else.

Louis Simpson came in for the kill, asking Perloff:

“Suppose you found some people who were using bad money and thought it was good money.  Would you be mistaken to point out then it was all forged?”

The audience roared appreciatively with laughter.

Bernstein, with his training in analyitic philosophy, was shrewder, finally, than Perloff. 

Rather than confront the dinosaur Levertorous head-on, the furry little Bernstith sniffed around and devoured her giant eggs:

Bernstein: “We’re not going to to resolve philosophical & theosophical, religious differences among us.  Religious groups have these same disagreements.  I think the problem I have is not so much understanding that people have a different veiwpoint than I have–believe me, I’ve been told that many times (laughter) and I accept that.”

Here’s the insidious nature of Bernstein’s Cambridge University training–he seeks disagreement as a happy result; he embraces difference as a positive quality in itself.   Bernstein gives up on universals sought by pro and con argument.  Now he continues:

“What I do find a problem is that we say ‘poets’ think this and ‘poets’ think that–because by doing that we tend to exclude the practices of other people in our society of divergence.”

What are these “practices of other people?”  He doesn’t say.  But we can imply that these “practices” are radically different and reconciliation is impossible.    Now Bernstein goes on to make a stunning leap of logic:

“And I think it’s that practice that leads to the very deplorable situation that Denise Levertov raised: the exclusion of the many different types of communities and cultures from our multicultural diverse society, of which there is no encompassing center.  My argument against a common voice is based on my idea that the idea of a common voice seems to me exclusion.”

Bernstein’s Orwellian thesis is that the One does not include the Many; the One is merely a subset of the Many.   Bernstein rejects the universalizing social glue necessary for Levertov’s democratic commonwealth of social justice; Bernstein promotes inclusion while positing inclusion itself as exclusion(!).  Multiculturalism interests Bernstein for its severing qualities–Bernstein wants to break but not build.  Logically and politically, he is unsound, and later on in the discussion–after Vendler breaks from ‘official verse culture’ and goes over to Bernstein’s side (thus giving Langpo a numerical 6-4 victory) with her ‘poetry makes language opaque’ speech–Levertov strikes the following blow:

Bernstein:  My poetry resists the tendencies within the culture as a whole. What poetry can do is make an intervention within our language practice in society.

Levertov:  I disagree.  Language is not your private property. Language has a common life.

ZOMBIE MODERNISM, FASCIST FUTURISM “WAR–THE WORLD’S ONLY HYGIENE”

      

      

The Zombie-Modernists are:

1. Ignorant of material, social, political, elitist origins of Modernism.

2. Ignorant of the vicious, exclusionary, philistine nature of Modernism.

3. Ignorant of how much ‘Make It New’ was fascist razing and leveling, not  democratic or revolutionary building.

Here’s what the Futurist Manifesto, published in 1909 on the front page of a major daily newspaper in Paris, said: 

We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn of woman.”

The critic Marjorie Perloff, whose job is to glorify kooky, 20th century modernism, excuses these words, saying Marinetti didn’t really mean it.

Perloff is not the only one, of course, who finds the manifesto-ism of Pound and Futurism full of “charm.”  Here’s more from that 1909 document:

“Courage, audacity and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.”

We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunisitic or utilitarian cowardice.”

“We affirm that the world’s magnficence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.  A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath…”

“We intend to exalt aggresive action, a fervent insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.”

GRRARRRRERURGGGHHHHH!

HELEN VENDLER AS DR. PHIL: THE CRITICISM OF EMPATHY AND SUCK-UP

DANCING WITH THE STARS: Percy Shelley spins Joan Houlihan. Judge Helen Vendler slips, but does she fall?

For Scarriet’s many  friends from the U.K. and Down-under,  Dancing with the Stars is a popular American TV show in which a dancing star partners with a celebrity who cannot dance, and the couples compete in front of judges.

HERE WE GO!

Valentine Chocs..Shelley Closeup

..Joan Houlihan …………..and …………….Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ready?

Dancers, take your places.

Both poems we are looking at by Houlihan and Shelley are songs.

In Shelley’s poem, the music supplies helpful adornment, pleasing the investigator of Shelley’s idea– as the music harmonizes with Shelley’s idea.

The purpose of poetic speech is NOT to make language “opaque,” or to make the reader aware of language’s “materiality,” or to “problematize language” by making it less “transparent.”   These are the words of Helen Vendler, who sought to agree with Charles Bernstein as she expressed this opinion at the October 1984 Alabama Poetry Conference, hosted by Hank Lazer.

Vendler’s analogy fails.

Language is NOT glass; transparency is the character of glass, and coloring it alters mood as well as vision, until too much darkening ends the function of the glass as glass.

Language, let us repeat, is NOT transparent like glass; even the simplest language is NOT simple, and Bernstein with his Cambridge Analytic philosophy background would be the first to understand this.  Language is NOT transparent; it is made transparent through the poet’s harmonizing skill.  Seeking opacity, as Vendler recommends to the poet, burdens the muse unnecessarily.

Rhyme, meter, metaphor, and assonance are not strategies in the direction of opacity, but are harmonizing elements in the direction of transparency.

Pater’s “hard, gem-like flame” has bewitched many an aesthete—but poetry has more to do with air and light than stone or concentrated flame.  The skill of the poet adds transparency to language, it does not take it away; “difficult,” muddy, opaque language brings out materiality in a way that might please a Valery, but thickness of tongue and poor handling of theme inevitably create an opacity that finally hinders poetry’s higher design.

As we compare the Houlihan and Shelley, note how Shelley’s theme is  transparent and rich with harmonic accompaniment.

Compare this to Houlihan’s poem: her theme lacks transparency; Houlihan’s theme is obscure, it lacks focus; thus her song-like attempts at opacity lack harmony.

As we see in the Shelley, harmony should be the end of language’s materiality, the materiality should never be an end in itself–unless we are writing pure nonsense poetry.

We can see in Houlihan’s poem the less than happy result of reaching after materiality or opacity as a capricious end in itself.

In her poem, “I Sing To You, Offering Human Sound,” words like “here,” “finger,” “hair,” and “weather” do present the reader with a powerful potential for harmony; the mere resemblance does please to a certain  degree, but the poem’s theme, as rich and mysterious and heart-felt as it is, is neither robustly presented, nor clear; it wanders too much, and thus the opacity is finally wasted, for the web of  the poem’s language is unable to contribute to the harmony of the poem as a whole.

Shelley’s “An Exhortation” is problematic, as well, and feels like a ‘throw-away’ by a young poet in some respects, but Shelley’s genius for harmony and transparency shines upon the reader in no small degree, despite his theme’s highly metaphoric and fanciful nature.

An Exhortation
…………………..by Percy Shelley

Chameleons feed on light and air:
Poets’ food is love and fame:
If in this wide world of care
Poets could but find the same
With as little toil as they,
Would they ever change their hue
As the light chameleons do,
Suiting it to every ray
Twenty times a day?

Poets are on this cold earth,
As chameleons might be,
Hidden from their early birth
In a cave beneath the sea;
Where light is, chameleons change:
Where love is not, poets do:
Fame is love disguised: if few
Find either, never think it strange
That poets range.

Yet dare not stain with wealth or power
A poet’s free and heavenly mind:
If bright chameleons should devour
Any food but beams and wind,
They would grow as earthly soon
As their brother lizards are.
Children of a sunnier star,
Spirits from beyond the moon,
O, refuse the boon!

~

I Sing to You, Offering Human Sound
…………………………..by Joan Houlihan

Come here. Let me finger your hair.
I like the way you imitate weather:
a white breath here and there
the rush and sting of pinkened air
a coven of crows talking briefly of home
and then the pelted tree.
By these shall I know ye,
bless yer little round mug.

Oh, my semi-precious, so much slow time
so much crawling and browsing
so much fascination with harmful insects
and corrosive sublimate.
As if you have as many eyes
as many eyes as the common fly,
and every one stuck open wide
to the wonderful, wonderful world.

So, I get up at 4 am, finally, to put on some tea—
a soothing explanation for steam.
Children grow into themselves, then away.
We musn’t worry when they’re gone—
or worse, not-quite-gone-yet.
The roots of things connect
where we can’t see.

When I was born, Mother began counting
to herself. Something in the middle
must have gone missing.
Fortunately, I have all my faculties.
In fact, I still remember to turn
every small thing until it gleams:
like your favorite airplane pin

there, riding on its own cotton wad.
Now come here so I can see
through your eyes to the sky within.
You are my only animal—
my animal of air.

MULTICULTURAL WRATH IN ALABAMA: LEVERTOV SCOLDS PANEL

BAMA PANEL III:  Indeed, Denise Levertov is increasingly appalled…

The third in a series of 5 articles on the 1984 University of Alabama Poetry Conference by THOMAS BRADY.


Denise Levertov

A perception of Wallace Stevens as participant in the “common life” was all Helen Vendler had in her defense against Louis Simpson’s charge that she (Helen Vendler) was a living embodiment of the staus quo.  Vendler’s “aim in life,” she said, was to “change the status quo,” and the example she produced in Alabama that morning was that she was on a life-long quest to find some way to convince people that tubby Wallace Stevens was not a wealthy, racist snob who wrote show-offy, goofball verse. (Good luck with that, professor Vendler.   You might want to check out William Logan’s review of the new ‘Selected Stevens’ in this month’s New Criterion.)

Charles Bernstein, with his back against the wall, finally…after a ‘Stern’ grilling…named… T.S Eliot.

Hendler Vendler…zonked by the poet Louis Simpson…attempted to save herself… with… Wallace Stevens.

Both Eliot and Stevens were students of the aesthetic philosopher George Santayana at Harvard.

Vendler was a full professor at Harvard.

Bernstein studied under Stanley Cavell at Harvard.

Denise Levertov, poetry editor for The Nation in the 1960s and Mother Jones in the 1970s, had heard enough.  She exploded.  She hit the ceiling.  She yawped.

“I’m getting increasingly appalled…”

Uh Oh…

“OUR DISCUSSION KEEPS GETTING MORE AND MORE PROVINCIAL, PAROCHIAL…”

A feeling of shame moved through the panelists…

“WE KEEP IGNORING…”

“The Crimson began to turn red…”

“THERE IS A WHOLE BODY OF LITERATURE…”

Sweat trickling down the faces of every professor in the room…

“VERY EXCITING LITERATURE…”

Panelists frozen in horror…

“DEVELOPING AND BEGINNING TO FLOURISH WILDLY AND WONDERFULLY…”

“Wildly and wonderfully?”  Denise, get this over with!  Kill us now!

“BLACK POETS…”

The panelists and the audience  (all white) were suddenly drained of color.

“AND CHICANO POETS.”

Damn!  Not Chicano poets, too!

(Maybe she said Chicago poets!  no…no…Chicano poets.  We’re cooked.)

Denise Levertov wasn’t finished.

The panelists didn’t move.

“All this is totally ignored and perhaps even more important…”

No one breathed.  Not even Louis Simpson, the WW II vet, batted an eyelash…

“we are talking away here…talking about prizes and naming names…”

Bernstein and Stern looked at the floor…Vendler began to chew on her lip…

“and all this is absolutely parochial irrelevancy and IGNORES THE FACT…”

The panelists, one by one, began to slowly hide under the table…

“THAT AS A SPECIES WE ARE STANDING ON THE VERY BRINK OF EXTINCTION…”

Vendler, under the table, drank a glass of water very fast…

“THAT WE LIVE IN A TIME OF UNPRECEDENTED CRISIS.”

Louis Simspon, WW II vet, is now weeping into Vendler’s shoes…

I MEAN…TALK ABOUT FIDDLING WHILE ROME BURNS!!

It brings the house down.  Furious applause.  Papers, books, flying everywhere.   Spontaneous suicides.

Alabama has never seen anything like this.

It’s unprecedented.

End of Part III.

Part IV will examine  everything else you’ve wanted to know about how American poetry got to be where it is but didn’t know how or what to ask.
STAY VERY FINELY TUNED…

‘BAMA CONFERENCE, PART II: HELEN VENDLER, LOUIS SIMPSON

BAMA PANEL II:  Foetry covered up in leaves, Vendler style.

The second in a series of 5 articles on the 1984 University of Alabama Poetry Conference by THOMAS BRADY.


..Helen Vendler,…………Louis Simpson,…….Simpson, Vendler and Bernstein

There were more fireworks at Hank Lazer’s 1984 Tuscaloosa Conference.

The distinguished poet Louis Simpson, steely, feet-on-the-ground, World War Two veteran, rebuked panelist Helen Vendler’s attempt to take the high road above the foetic mire.

Simpson to Vendler: “The status quo. If the establishment ever spoke, it would say exactly, I’m sorry, what you just said.”

What did Vendler say to elicit this response?

Vendler was obviously taken aback by Simpson’s remark.   She had just addressed what she termed the panel’s “ill feelings” (especially those of Bernstein’s) with a long speech.

Simpson’s reply must have felt like a slap in the face.

The distinguished poet Louis Simpson was like knight royal at the conference; he was the only male U.K. member, rather elderly, and he was also the best poet there.

In her speech, Vendler, the plumpish bird of Keats/Stevens plumage, played her ‘Tenured Queen of the Criticism Priesthood’ card, obviously an attempt to 1) restore order to the proceedings, 2) give dignity to the proceedings, 3) soothe hurt feelings as a mother might and 4) impress everyone.

Simpson’s remark was so wounding that all Helen of Harvard could make in the way of reply was that she had worked  hard all her life to make people realize Wallace Stevens was no snob, but a real man, and…and…if that wasn’t using the High Road of Criticism to challenge the status quo, then, what was?

Simpson, silent and unmoved, must have thought to himself, ‘Wallace Stevens?  Is that all you’ve got?’

All Bernstein had was T.S. Eliot.

Now all Vendler had was Wallace Stevens.

O O O O that Official Verse Culture-

It’s so elegant

So intelligent

 Vendler began her speech by juxtaposing the practice of high and beautiful Criticism with the practice of low and necessary Reviewing.

Contemporary reviewing, like the game of love, was bound to make people unhappy; rejected by a lover because you are not a beautiful blonde, rejected by a tenure committee because you are not Helen Vendler,  rejected by a prize committee because you are not Jorie Graham, are just parts of life and it’s best not to nurse grudges and throw stones at tenure committees and call them old fogies because, dear Charles, you just have to be patient, OK, sweetie?  What really matters is how we feel about the dead, with all personal jealousies and animosties removed, time and death fostering a love of what is true.

Foetry covered up in leaves, Vendler style.

“When we are all safely dead…”

“Temporary abrasiveness between prize committees & reviewers and the poets they’re judging or giving prizes to shouldn’t be confused with differences between poetry & criticism.”

Ah, but Helen, this sort of abrasiveness isn’t temporary.

It lasts forever.

One can hear the anger even in the playing of that blue guitar.

Vendler: “Milton cannot feel bad that Dr. Johnson didn’t think well of his poem, ‘Lycidas.'”

Stern: “He’s furious.”

End of Part II.

Part III will deal with multicultural wrath in Alabama.
Sound good?
STAY EVEN MORE TUNED…

25 YEARS ON: FOETICS DOMINATES 1984 ALABAMA POETRY CONFERENCE

BAMA PANEL I:  Charles Bernstein does NOT name the ‘Official Poetry Policemen.’

The first in a series of 5 articles on the 1984 University of Alabama Poetry Conference by THOMAS BRADY.


Charles Bernstein, Gerald Stern, and T.S.Eliot.

Gerald Stern: “Names…of the policemen.”

If this October 20, 1984 panel discussion had taken place in London or Paris, or one of America’s major universities, it might have struck a mythic chord in American Letters.  If poetry mattered more to the American public, we might still be discussing the poetry session which took place 25 years ago this month.

Helen Vendler, Marjorie Perloff, Charles Bernstein, Denise Levertov, Kenneth Burke, Louis Simpson, David Ignatow and Gerald Stern put on a show in sleepy Tuscaloosa, as post-modernism faced off against modernism in a throat-ripping dog fight

Modern poetry’s factions exploded in the flesh, as po-biz insiders erupted in a spontaneous public quarrel.

The more dignified members of the panel probably regret their trip to U. Alabama in those controversial days of the 1980s culture wars.   I’m guessing most of the participants would prefer this conference be forgotten, but we at Scarriet would hate to miss an opportunity  to see big players like Helen (of Coy) Vendler and (Prince) Charles Bernstein naked.

We want to thank Annie Finch for finding the transcript of the panel discussion–we would have missed it otherwise.

Scarriet will do a series of posts on the ‘Bama Panel, as we observe its 25th anniversary.  There’s too much great stuff here for just one post.

So here we are back in 1984.  When asked a bland question by the conference host:

“What do you perceive the function of poetry to be, Charles?”

Bernstein, the unemployed ex-editor of the magazine, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E,  quickly got himself in a foetic tangle:

“[it] has to do with audiences, distribution, jobs, professional networks, things like that, which I think we tend to underrate.  It seems interesting to me that professional academic poets are making this particular issue apparent in this context…”

“I think it’s unfair not to realize that it’s actually poets who are the policemen of official verse culture in the United States.  And so from the perspective of a poet outside the academy and from the perspective of many people that I know who are not associated with academics, cannot get teaching jobs…”

Iowa Poetry Workshop teacher and poet Gerald Stern broke in:

“I don’t think you’re right, Charles. Who? What poets are the policemen? Would you like to name some poets who are the policemen?”

This was the defining moment of Bernstein’s career.  Had Bernstein “named names,” backing up his claim that ‘policemen poets’ were oppressively enforcing ‘official verse culture,’ he might never have found a job in academia.

Bernstein replied, “Yeah, I’ll give you a group, I’ll give you a group.”

Stern was a bulldog.  He would not let the matter drop.

Names…of the policemen.”

Bernstein:  I’ll give you a group.  You want me to?  No, I’m not going to, I’m going to give you institutional groups, I’m going to say those poets, those poets who…

Stern: I’ve got the names of thirty-seven hard, fast Communists in the State Department…McCarthy never named one…

Hank Lazer, ‘Bama host, and friend of Bernstein, attempted to smooth things over by leading the discussion back to the ‘function of poetry’ question.  Lazer must have been thinking: ‘My conference is going to destroy the career of my friend!’

But Stern wouldn’t quit: “Would you tell me who the policemen are, please, Charles?  Would you give me a list of names?”

Bernstein answered foetically: “Yeah, I’m talking about those poets who are involved in the award networks, the creative writing programs, and the major reviews.”

Charles Bernstein was explicitly talking foetry 20 years before Cordle and Foetry.com.

The only difference between Cordle and Bernstein was Bernstein was not naming names–and not naming names was, to the poet Gerald Stern, an even worse McCarthyist offense.

Stern had won the Lamont Poetry Selection 7 years prior, when Stern was 52: judges Alan Dugan, Phil Levine, and Charles Wright.  Doors had obviously opened for Stern since then, leading to his job at Iowa, and his invitation to this conference.

Did Stern think Bernstein was going to name Dugan, Levine, and Wright?  Who did Stern think Bernstein was going to name?   Who did Bernstein have in mind back there in 1984?

In the end, after more McCarthyism talk from Stern, Bernstein saved his career and meekly mentioned one poet, a dead one:

T.S. Eliot.

Bernstein used another dead poet to save himself:

“I would give you as a central instance the person that William Carlos Williams called the great disaster for our letters, T.S. Eliot…”

Bernstein made a non-answer.

Eliot’s “officalizing role” as a poet is a truism.

Everyone knows Williams and Eliot shared many mutual friends, including Pound.   Williams and Eliot both gained credentials by their accentuated differences: Williams’  obscure career was made to seem more ‘popularly American,’ while Eliot was assured high-brow points in the comparison to the Jersey scribbler.  The whole matter is the very opposite of the played-out platitude in the po-biz press.  Rather than shedding crocodile tears for Williams, was Bernstein instead playing on the opposition between revolutionary secular Jew and conservative Christian?  This is more likely.

To the Eliot v. Willams charade,  Ignatow said, “You’re right there.”

Bernstein: “Thank you.”

Indeed.

End of Part I.

Part II will examine Helen Vendler’s role in the same 1984 panel.
STAY TUNED…

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