THE CHAMPIONSHIP

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Logic leads us astray. There are those who will browbeat you with logic, the most patronizing bullying types, who believe that they, unlike you, are playing by the rules. Their authority lies in mathematics, but the mathematical formula always applies narrowly and not universally.  Take the most famous piece of logic. A tree cannot be both a tree, and not a tree, at the same time. The proof of this formula cannot be proven except by evidence of the senses. The “logic” of something never proves anything—not even its own “logic.”

As we come to the end of Scarriet’s ’19 Poetry March Madness, we are sadly confronted with the axiom that one cannot both lose and not lose a sports contest. The Muse of Mathematics, as she often does in poetry, specifies a window of time, (a partial clock) in which to compare two sums, measurable ticks (points) on an otherwise unmoving clock.

Two partial and variable clocks plus one partial and constant clock. This defines the harmonic pleasure of sports, and might be said to resemble the Surprise Symphony of Hayden. It is a never-ending source of delight. Time is surprised while there is still time.

The Final Four this year consists of small windows into poems—this was the format of the competition—poems which are not poems, imploding the very logic which some hold dear.

There is no set limit on these poems which are not poems—they are the “size” of the universe which hides from our senses in the vastness of the word, “infinite,” a mathematical term no better equipped to describe the universe as a poem, or a poem which is not a poem—for we know the Big Bang ran its course when the universe first sprang into existence—but how was it decided how large the universe would be? There was no “large” before it existed—no “size” for it to exist in as it made its “size” felt.

Two contestants who reached the Final Four, Daipayan Nair and Sushmita Gupta, describe the totality of life from a subjective perspective; we believe there is nothing else to describe the drama of human existence after reading these two capsules:

I RUN,RUN, RUN AND RUN/STILL I DON’T REACH MY BIRTH/DON’T CROSS MY DEATH —Daipayan Nair

EVERYTHING HURTS/EVEN THAT/WHICH SEEMS LIKE LOVE. —Sushmita Gupta

Only a majestic rhythm can make the majestic invoking of life, in a sweeping manner, successful.

Not a wasted word or syllable is allowed.

The other two Final Four contestants came here in a different manner from the other two—they both haunt us below the moon, below, below, in the quotidian, where dreams are intimate and almost infinitely small:

SURE, IT WAS A DREAM, BUT EVEN SO/YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE SO SOUNDLESSLY —Jennifer Barber

THE SHAVER MISSING, YOUR GREEDY LAPTOP: GONE TOO, HIDING YOU —Divya Guha

These euphonious masterpieces have eccentric rhythms—I could dreamily listen to them all day, as if they were 1960s psychedelic rock—Sgt Peppers or Dark Side of the Moon, or pieces by Satie or Debussy.

In the profound atmosphere of reaching the end of a long and arduous tournament, one which began with 64 contestants, the advantage will go to the universal and the majestic.

Therefore, Daipayan Nair and Sushmita Gupta win their Final Four contests, and advance to the Championship Game!

THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

DAIPAYAN NAIR V. SUSHMITA GUPTA

THE WINNER OF THE ’19 SCARRIET POETRY MARCH MADNESS TOURNAMENT IS:

EVERYTHING HURTS/EVEN THAT/WHICH SEEMS LIKE LOVE

Sixty-four flowers, symbolizing the 64 contestants, are laid before the feet of the winner at center stage.

Thank you to all.

 

 

 

THE FINAL FOUR!!

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The poetry world has been riveted this month by another Scarriet Poetry March Madness.

Why shouldn’t poets compete, just like those wearing jerseys and sneakers? Why should only those in sneakers get to play, have fun, and even get rich?

Poets compete secretly—judges read their work behind closed doors, and then some prize is announced: Bor-ing.

What’s more interesting?

A poem?

A ball thrown towards a hoop?

The answer, of course, is that it completely depends on the cameras, the lights, the rules, the coverage—the context.

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Here’s the Final Four contests:

In the Bold Bracket—–

Daipayan Nair “I RUN, RUN, RUN AND RUN/STILL I DON’T REACH MY BIRTH/DON’T CROSS MY DEATH”

Eliana Vanessa “I’D RATHER BE OUTSIDE, WITH HIM,/TURNING STONES IN THE RAIN,/THAN HERE,/LISTENING TO THE HUM/OF SO MANY SKULLS, ALONE.”

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In the Mysterious Bracket—–

Jennifer Barber “SURE, IT WAS A DREAM, BUT EVEN SO/YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE SO SOUNDLESSLY”

Michelina Di Martino “LET US MAKE LOVE. WHERE ARE WE?”

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In the Life Bracket—–

Divya Guha “THE SHAVER MISSING, YOUR GREEDY LAPTOP: GONE TOO, HIDING YOU.”

N Ravi Shankar “YOU ARE NUDE, SWEET MOTHER,/SO AM I/AS THE BAMBOOS CREAK A LULLABY”

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In the Beautiful Bracket—–

Medha Singh “YOU’VE/ REMEMBERED HOW THE WINTER WENT/AS IT WENT ON”

Sushmita Gupta “EVERYTHING HURTS,/EVEN THAT/WHICH SEEMS LIKE LOVE.”

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In the Bold Bracket contest, we have some of the transcript of the radio broadcast of this thrilling contest…

…Daipayan likes to run and run and run…a drive…a layup…and it’s good!…these horses like to run, Bob, yes they do…Eliana playing a zone, applying a press to contain Daipayan and keep this a half-court game…oh! lost it out of bounds! and it’s…Eliana’s ball! Pass inside…blocked! oh what a defensive play!…Daipayan going back the other way…bringing it up the court quickly…pass into the corner…for three…oh! in and out!…here comes Eliana back the other way…a jumper from outside…no good…but Eliana gets the rebound…back up…good…and fouled! Eliana goes to the line to complete the three point play! Tie game! And five minutes on the clock…run, run…I still don’t reach…run…so many skulls…run…alone…run…turning stones…in the rain…the hum of so many skulls…my birth…my death…outside with the jumper…no good…rebound…shot…rejected…back outside…the shot..no good…rebound…stolen at mid-court!…Eliana steals….two on one break…goooood!!!

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Mysterious Bracket action…

SURE, IT WAS A DREAM…LET US MAKE LOVE, WHERE ARE WE?…LET US MAKE LOVE…LET US MAKE LOVE..WHERE ARE WE, WHERE ARE WE?…BUT EVEN SO…EVEN SO…YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE…YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE…LET US MAKE LOVE…WHERE ARE WE?…YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE…SURE, IT WAS A DREAM…SO SOUNDLESSLY…BANK SHOT…GOOD!…BACK THE OTHER WAY…THREE ON TWO…LAYUP…REJECTED!…REBOUND…UP AGAIN…BLOCKED!…THREE SECONDS ON THE SHOT CLOCK…FROM OUTSIDE…GOOD!!

THE DREAM…THE DREAM…SURE, IT WAS A DREAM…OFFENSIVE FOUL!…ANOTHER TURNOVER…FULL COURT PRESS…PASS…INTERCEPTED!!

WHERE ARE WE? LET’S MAKE LOVE.

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Over in the Life Bracket

The shaver…the laptop…you are nude…mother…your greedy laptop…creaking…gone too…a lullaby…sweet mother…the bamboos creak…you are nude, so am I…the shaver missing…the shaver missing…your greedy laptop gone too…a lullaby…mother…you are nude…

Where’s the laptop?…where are you…you are nude…gone, too…your greedy laptop gone too…the shaver missing…you are nude, sweet mother…sweet mother, you are nude…the bamboos creak a lullaby…outside…the jumper…no good…out of bounds…no!…saved…pass up court…reach-in foul…going to the line…in foul trouble…nude…missing…gone…so am I…the bamboos creak a lullaby…the shaver missing…gone too, hiding you…

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And finally in the Beautiful Bracket...

Medha brings it up court…you’ve remembered…you’ve remembered…the play…isolate…pivot…cross court pass…dribble back…drive…stop…fake…back outside…the shot…everything hurts…even that…do you remember how the winter went on…everything hurts…as it went on…the shot…missed…rebound…loose ball…whose got it…a tangle…who has it…time out…seconds left…which seems like love…

which seems like love…even that…everything hurts…winter, as it went on…you’ve remembered…you’ve remembered…even that…like love…back outside…three point shot…no good…

THE WINNERS!! CONGRATULATIONS ON REACHING THE FINAL FOUR!!

DAIPAYAN NAIR -I RUN, RUN, RUN AND RUN/STILL I DON’T REACH MY BIRTH/DON’T CROSS MY DEATH

JENNIFER BARBER -SURE, IT WAS A DREAM, BUT EVEN SO/YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE SO SOUNDLESSLY

DIVYA GUHA -THE SHAVER MISSING, YOUR GREEDY LAPTOP: GONE TOO, HIDING YOU

SUSHMITA GUPTA -EVERYTHING HURTS,/EVEN THAT/WHICH SEEMS LIKE LOVE.

 

THE ELITE EIGHT!! POETRY MARCH MADNESS ’19

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Scarriet came into existence in September of 2009, quite by accident—from a silly quarrel with Blog Harriet, the Poetry Foundation site.

As we approach Scarriet’s 10th anniversary—after nearly one original post per day, and a million visits—we offer thanks to everyone who has ever looked at Scarriet—or contributed in some way to its pages.

Scarriet’s Poetry March Madness began in 2010.

Congratulations to the poets who have made it to 2019 Sweet Sixteen!

BOLD bracket

Diane Lockward “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”
Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red? How do I make everyone read it?”
Eliana Vanessa “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”
Daipayan Nair “I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

MYSTERIOUS bracket

Jennifer Barber “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”
Merryn Juliette “grey as I am”
Michelina Di Martino “Let us make love. Where are we?”
Kushal Poddar “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

LIFE bracket

William Logan “’I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’”/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”
Alec Solomita “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”
Divya Guha “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”
N Ravi Shankar “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

BEAUTIFUL bracket

Mary Angela Douglas “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”
Medha Singh “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”
Jennifer Robertson “ocean after ocean after ocean”
Sushmita Gupta “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

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AND NOW…

Reaching the Elite Eight!!

Daipayan Nair defeats Diane Lockward.  The wife and dog are finally caught! The winner’s line was a little more thrilling.
Eliana Vanessa defeats Aseem Sundan. The “hum of so many skulls, alone” was finally too much for the blood red paper.

Jennifer Barber defeats Kushal Poddar. “All Summer” was not quite enough to vanquish “even so you put down the phone so soundlessly.”
Michelina Di Martino defeats Merryn Juliette. “Let us make love. Where are we?” is a poem in itself.  We hate to see “grey as I am” go.

N Ravi Shankar defeats William Logan. The nude mother overcomes the “ghost of a caress.”
Divya Guha defeats Alec Solomita.  The jet like a dime way up high is so delightful, but “greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you” is victorious.

Sushmita Gupta defeats Mary Angela Douglas.  How can one of these perfections lose?  The mortal eye will have to accept this decision.
Medha Singh defeats Jennifer Robertson.  The oceans surrender to the winter.

Congratulations to the surviving poets!

 

MYSTERIOUS BRACKET, SECOND ROUND

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What are we doing when we read poetry?

To use a sports metaphor, since this is March Madness—it is an advantage to know your opponent (your poem).

Just to take an example in baseball: The second time through the lineup, when the hitters have already had a turn at bat, and they have seen “what the pitcher can do,” the pitcher in that game, facing the hitters a second time, will find it more difficult in getting the batters out. To “know” your opponent, in sports, means they become less of an opponent—to know is to diminish the other’s effect on you.

Is this true in poetry?  When we get to know a poem, does it then become less of a poem to us?  Less interesting to us? When the novelty wears off, do we no longer admire some poems?

Are we reading poetry to know it and “defeat” it, or do we desire it to defeat us—and therefore we are not reading poems to “know” them?

Is the poem good—like an opponent is good—when it defeats us?  Does knowing the poem, therefore, make it less enjoyable?

And if this is true, how does the poet keep us from knowing about the poem?

As we examine the 8 poets vying for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen, let’s look at this

Jennifer Barber, who is seeded no. 1 in the Mystery (or Mysterious) bracket, offers up what looks like an easy pitch to hit:

“Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

The reader is expected to bite on, “Sure, it was a dream,” and we do bite, because dreams are ubiquitous; we feel at times that life is a dream. “Sure, it was dream” is much better than, “It was a dream,” which would make us slightly uneasy;” It was a dream” sounds a little foreboding. Or a little boring. Either one.

So right away the poet has set us up beautifully. “Sure, it was a dream…”

Here’s the rest: “but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

The “but even so” disarms us further: Sure it was… But even so.

Then, in a few words, Jennifer Barber gives us the strange, the intimate, and the mundane all at once: “you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

Imagine the difficulty of describing the thousand sounds of a battle.  Here the poet triumphs in terms of delivery by describing something mysterious which needs almost no describing: “you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

The experts in the March Madness Poetry tourney all say Jennifer Barber is one of the contestants to watch.

Can you see why?

It sets us up. And delivers.

Srividya Sivakumar describes for us what she’s doing:

“I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

The movement of this line features objects of a search (coral and abalone) which are not found, but may be found, in the danger of the line’s end: lair.

It’s wonderfully done.

We love this line.

But Jennifer Barber wins.

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Merryn Juliette “grey as I am” and Aakriti Kuntal “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.” go toe to toe.

This may be the most interesting match so far—grey versus red.

All art has a frame—do we save our admiration for how much can be put into the frame?

Why shouldn’t we wander away from the frame, and be free?  Why do we care for what happens to be inside an artificial frame?

Life is ours, and can never live inside a frame.  We should resent all frames, and with the famous Greek philosopher, hate poetry.  What is wrong with us?

A poem’s length is its frame—“grey as I am” is a miniature.  Its duration, its frame, its existence, is but a model of all life.  If we worship anything, anything at all, a person, or an animal, or a flower, or a thought, why shouldn’t we kneel in holy rapture and affection before, “grey as I am?”

What should we make of Aakriti Kuntal’s strange command?

“Close your eyes then.” All life is but a blocking out.  One sensation, one exit, one entrance, replaced by another.

And then another strange command: “Imagine the word on the tip of the your tongue.”

Those who carry words on the tips of their tongue tend to be shallow deceivers.  Is this what the poet means?  The name of someone dear to you lives in your heart, not on the tip of your tongue.

And then comes the joke: “The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Could it be the poet is commanding their enemy to close their eyes and contemplate how silly and shallow they are?

You are but a tongue!

This is speculation by March Madness experts on Kuntal’s fascinating line. It has just the right amount of mystery, don’t you think?

But the whole spirit of “grey as I am” is entirely different. We don’t have commands. We have a reticent humility.

In a close contest, “grey as I am” wins.

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Michelina Di Martino has one of the most unusual lines in the tournament, consisting of a two pieces of speech, one of them a question. It is bizarre but does not strain after the bizarre. It is utterly charming.

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sridala Swami counters with a difficulty which is almost mathematical.

“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

The line suggests set theory.

Here is all words.  Here is this book with a certain amount of words. And your one chance is speaking with the words in the book.  By the time one speaks, has one already been spoken for?

With one line, Sridala Swami suggests the whole psychology of poetry.  It is a powerful line, indeed.

It is power versus charm.

“Let us make love. Where are we?” prevails at last.

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Nabina Das has given us a real mystery with “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

Kushal Poddar provides the flip side of a mystery—something closer to a reverie.  The joy of a reverie participates in the feeling of mystery, but one which is pleasant, and not necessary to solve.

“Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

There’s something in us, however, which wants to solve every mystery, even those reveries, even those moments when we quietly forget.  “What was that?” we ask.  “What should I be doing now?”

In the battle of the uncomfortable versus the comfortable,  Kushal Poddar, with his “All Winter. All Summer,” wins.

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THE MYSTERY BRACKET ROUND ONE, MADNESS ’19

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Jennifer Barber is a poet we know nothing about. How many poets across the Internet and the bookstores and the universities today clamor for our attention? How much are we expected to know about them? How much do we know about Sappho? Shakespeare? Homer? Only what scholars speculate. The very name of the poet could be made up. Homer? Shakespeare? They could be other people, their very names wrong. The ignorance which crawls towards us is vast.

Curiosity is rude. Jennifer Barber is the no. 1 seed in the Mysterious (or the Mystery) Bracket. Here’s her game:

“Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

When a poet wants to tell a truth, the hard work begins—the truth, being true, is not poetic; the poetic is only the dye which allows us to see the truth. The poet does not arrive at the truth; the poet only arrives at the poetic—arrives at “the dye” before they even know “the truth” they are tracking. This is why poetry is impossible; the dye must be exquisite enough to please, but it tracks a truth accidentally, since truth can’t be tracked; it’s already there, already understood by the non-poet; the poet can only fashion a dye—and hope it stains or covers properly what doesn’t need tracking. The experiment fails before it begins, because the truth is not what the experiment is after; the experiment is what the experiment is after. Most dyes hide the truth, the truth we already possess and don’t need; the poet qua poet pretends a useless dye may be emotionally akin to a useless truth: “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.”  This haunting line by Jennifer Barber is the best case scenario. 99.9% of poems are experiments which crumble before they begin, never mind finding a truth. Foolish rhetoric, the type of rhetoric which seeks to demolish another because they are not a Marxist or an atheist, or they don’t love you, actually has a better chance of success in producing a passable poem than one which attempts to pour a dye on a truth—any dye, any truth—as the poet “lets herself go,” far from newspapers and newspaper kinds of truths, composing her detached poem in a detached trance, or waking dream: this, more often than not, produces dye upon dye, a confusing, obscure, mess, or, just as bad, a naked truth, not poetic—precisely because of its nakedness, for no naked truth is poetic, even a truth offered while in the middle of a dream.

Why is Barber’s verse haunting? Because it successfully colors a truth—we experience, not the truth, but the dyed truth, so the experimental tracking of a truth has a chance of succeeding. We are haunted by an apparent truth which flees invisibly—except it is miraculously caught by the dye which Barber has added; we can wonder all we want which came first, the truth of the scene of a dream of a phone being put down soundlessly by a person who is important to us, or the lines themselves (the dye) but since truth is already present to all of us (making it the truth) we know the lines, not the truth, must have been what Barber discovered first, whether she thinks this is true, or not. And this is why poetry is impossible—why it is always an accident of words, an accident of a dye which through pure luck captures a truth. Finding a truth and then dressing up that truth with words, is, by the soundest logic, what the poet does. But we doubt this ever really happens. When we read, “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly,” we have no choice but to think that these particular words in their particular order made their entrance before the truth could even be said to exist, since truth does not care for such words; truth does not need to be dyed.

But this impossibility is resolved—where the poet is more than an accident-machine spitting out words—by speech.

If Barber speaks as a poet might speak, the stream of her speech might be cut and pasted to produce the desired poetic effect. That’s why the “Sure” is vital—(“Sure, it was a dream…”) Barber is speaking, not merely “using words,” and it is speech which is the bridge between mere accident and truth. Poetry is a highly evolved insanity—a conversation between two people in one individual. Speech blocks out truth—one cannot speak and apply dye to a truth—speech resolves the impossibility of poetry by ceasing to think truthfully, so that the dye is the speech, the message is the poetic itself, which does away with truth altogether. But the truth still exists, by default, in speech—in the logical connectedness of speech itself; just not as something being tracked. It is already there, and the speech is how the dye travels—the reader of poetry does not see a dye, but how the dye is infused into the colorless truth. Speech is further removed in order to resolve the impossibility of actually seeing the dyed truth; we only see the dye administered. Barber’s words please by their administration; the naked truth is not the real interest, nor is the “naked” dye—it is the movement of the dye (speech) which captures our attention.

The worst kind of poetry needs the metaphoric to seem poetic: a rain of tears, a horse of passion, a hotel of sorrow. The hotel is dyed with sorrow and the sorrow is dyed with hotel, and the “truth” of the poem—the sorrowful hotel—is the stained dye seen, but the dye works overtime in the presence of nothing. There is no poetic experience. There is only a double staining.

“Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.” has no metaphor; a poetic experience is sprayed into our consciousness by speech.

Barber’s worthy opponent in the first round of play is this by Sophia Naz:

“Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

Again, there is no metaphor—the “deviants and dervishes” joining with the river is accomplished through natural speech—a metaphor would imply a joining, but speech is more accurate; they “lie down the length of her,” which is different from joining—metaphor clumsily fuses, or joins, exactly as the dye fuses to an object, but the compromise of speech is better: “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her,” has but one, slight, metaphoric gesture: it is seen in calling the river “her” (the implied metaphor is ‘she is the river’) but this metaphoric gesture stops at the banks of the river—the rhyme of “river” with “her” and the line “deviants and dervishes of the river” create a poetic experience; the deviants and dervishes are close to the river, and they may feel the river is their mother, perhaps, but nothing so equivalently or metaphorically banal is forced upon the reader. Like Jennifer Barber, Sophia Naz has produced the highest order of poetry.

In a close contest, Barber advances.

In the second contest, Srividya Sivakumar has the unfortunate role of facing the no. 2 seed in the Mystery Bracket, Percy Shelley:

“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

This is one of the greatest lines of poetry ever written.

Here is Srividya:

“I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

This is a beautiful line of poetry—note the ‘r’ sound inhabiting the first foot of both trochaic words “searching” and “coral” before the run of “and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair,” with the ‘r’ sound appearing again at the line’s close, in ” lair,” as well as “dragon.”  Don’t you love it?

Srividya defeats Shelley!

Anything can happen in March Madness!

Next Up:

A.E. Stallings “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

versus

Aakriti Kuntal “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

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It’s here once again.  Poetry March Madness!!

Previously, Scarriet has used Best American Poetry Series poems, Speeches by Aesthetic Philosophers, and poems of, and inspired by, Romanticism

This year, our tenth!—and we’ve done this once before—lines of poetry compete. 

The great majority of these poets are living contemporaries, but we have thrown in some of the famous dead, just to mix things up.

The line is the unit of poetry for ancients and moderns alike—moderns have argued for other units: the sentence, the breath—but to keep it simple, here we have fragments, or parts, of poems.

Is the poem better when the poetic dwells in all parts, as well as the whole?  I don’t see how we could say otherwise.

What makes part of a poem good?

Is it the same qualities which makes the whole poem good?

A poem’s excellent and consistent rhythm, by necessity, makes itself felt both throughout the poem and in its parts.

A poem’s excellent rhetoric can be strong as a whole, but weaker in its parts—since the whole understanding is not necessarily seen in pieces.

This is why, perhaps, the older, formalist poets, are better in their quotations and fragments than poets are today.

But this may be nothing but the wildest speculation.

Perhaps rhythm should become important, again, since rhetoric and rhythm do not have to be at war—rhythm enhances rhetoric, in fact.

Some would say modern poetry has set rhythm free.

No matter the quality under examination, however, any part of a poem can charm as a poem—with every quality a poem might possess.

Before we get to the brackets, let’s look at three examples in the 2019 tournament:

Milton’s “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame” is powerfully rhythmic in a manner the moderns no longer evince. It is like a goddess before which we kneel.

Sushmita Guptas “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love” also has rhythm, but this is not a goddess, but a flesh and blood woman, before which we kneel and adore.

Medha Singh’s “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on” is so different from Milton, it almost seems like a different art form; here is the sad and homely, with which we fall madly in love.

And now we present the 2019 March Madness poets:

I. THE BOLD BRACKET

Diane Lockward — “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

Aseem Sundan — “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

Menka Shivdasani — “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

John Milton — “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame”

Philip Larkin —“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

Eliana Vanessa — “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

Robin Richardson — “Please let me be a blaze. I will destroy,/I mean create again this place.”

Khalypso — “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

Walter Savage Landor —“I strove with none, for none was worth my strife”

Robin Morgan — “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Joie Bose — “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love.”

Daipayan Nair — “I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Edgar Poe — “Over the mountains/of the moon,/Down the valley of the shadow”

Linda Ashok — “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Hoshang Merchant — “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

Aaron Poochigian — “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.”

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II. THE MYSTERIOUS BRACKET

Jennifer Barber — “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

Percy Shelley —“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

A.E. Stallings — “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

Merryn Juliette — “grey as I am”

Michelina Di Martino — “Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sukrita Kumar — “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

Ben Mazer — “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

Richard Wilbur —“The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Sridala Swami —“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Nabina Das — “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

Kushal Poddar — “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

Meera Nair — “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

Ranjit Hoskote — “The nightingale doesn’t blame the gardener or the hunter:/Fate had decided spring would be its cage.”

Aakriti Kuntal — “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Srividya Sivakumar— “I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

Sophia Naz — “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

III. THE LIFE BRACKET

William Logan —‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”

Danez Smith — “i call your mama mama”

Divya Guha — “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

N Ravi Shankar—“You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

Rupi Kaur — “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

June Gehringer — “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

Marilyn Chin — “by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

Sam Sax — “that you are reading this/must be enough”

Dylan Thomas —“After the first death, there is no other.”

Stephen Cole — “I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

Alec Solomita — “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

Kim Gek Lin Short —“If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

Lily Swarn — “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

Semeen Ali — “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

Akhil Katyal — “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

Garrison Keillor — “Starved for love, obsessed with sin,/Sunlight almost did us in.”

****

IV. THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET

Mary Angela Douglas — “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

Ann Leshy Wood — “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

Medha Singh — “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

Yana Djin — “Morning dew will dress each stem.”

John Keats —“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

Sushmita Gupta — “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

William Shakespeare —“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

A.E. Housman —“The rose-lipt girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

Raena Shirali — “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

C.P. Surendran — “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

Dimitry Melnikoff —“Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

Sharanya Manivannan — “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”

Abhijit Khandkar — “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

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STEVEN CRAMER, POET AND MFA DIRECTOR: THE CLANGINGS INTERVIEW

SCARRIET:  Poe said poetry should be a passion, not a study. In the classroom it can be both. Among professors and graduate students, we see that it can be a passion and a study. Is to study something passionately, however, precisely the opposite of what Poe meant? Have we in the U.S. become too studious in our poetry?

STEVEN CRAMER:  Philip Larkin was once asked what he’d learned from the study of Auden, Thomas and Hardy.  His intemperate outburst in response seems to me instructive:  “Oh, for Christ’s sake, one doesn’t study poets! You read them, and think, That’s marvelous, how is it done, could I do it? and that’s how you learn.”

            That’s a wonderful, bracing answer, but it begs the question, because what Larkin describes is passionate study.   Larkin recommends a specialized, utilitarian kind of study, the alert eye of the apprentice, but he’s describing study nonetheless.   Studying poetry passionately doesn’t strike me as oxymoronic, whether or not the reader is a poet or has aspirations to becoming one.

            Robert Pinsky says somewhere, If you want to learn a great deal about a fish, dissection is probably useful.  Hasn’t the act of paying close attention always been as much affective as intellectual?  Falling in love is, literally, eye-opening.  “Study” comes from a Latin root that also meant “eagerness.”

With your fifth book, Clangings, you have emerged as a major poet of the ur-trope, sound & sense. I would eventually like to ask you a few questions on this topic, but I also note that your poetry is acutely aware of all five senses; smell, for instance, is often thematic for you; how conscious are you of giving your readers a feast of the senses, and can you tell us how this writing process developed?

At times in writing Clangings I was very conscious of making sense in the way you describe—that is, appealing to the senses, sound especially, and in a manner that trumped logic but not content—or at least not emotional impulse.  Sometimes sense appeal constituted a challenge I’d deliberately pose for myself—for instance, a poem devoting each of its five stanzas to one of the five senses (“If I think in yellow, I can remember. . .”).  But mostly I proceeded intuitively—doesn’t everybody?—within the parameters of the project I’d set for myself—each of the poem’s sections had to be five quatrains rhyming (with many liberties taken) abba.

            After writing the second or third poem, I realized a voice had surfaced that wasn’t the conventional, quasi-autobiographical lyric “I,” and that opportunities for plot and character presented themselves, opportunities new to me as a poet.

            I like that you use the word “feast.”  The poem’s first detail is of dinner plates, and food imagery recurs often.  I think of this character as both literally and figuratively hungry—to make sense, to make connection.  So, in terms of the book’s psychology—and perhaps here’s a way to regard sense appeal as a “thematic”—I hope the sensory textures dramatize impediments as much as nourishments.  The speaker often laments his multivalent language—“What I meant to vent’s getting/twisted up.”   For a poet, language taking on a life of its own equals freedom.  For my invented speaker, it more often blocks connection, makes him “two rhymes snagged between rhymes,/spun puns, all my blinds up in flames.”

Your observation on the difference between language that either connects or impedes psychologically, and in other ways, is fascinating.

That’s why I used that line from “Prufrock” as the epigraph:  “It is impossible to say just what I mean.”  I was 17 when I first read that line, and it pierced me then and still does.  In some ways, Clangings pays homage to that one line.

Can you sum up Clangings’ character and plot, at least to the degree that it’s not supposed to resist that?

The book’s four parts, I hope, develop in apprehensible if indeterminate ways.  We first get a kind of “census” of the speaker’s mental life, which introduces Dickey but also evokes, prismatically, a history and a range of attitudes on religion, sex, friendship, childhood.  Dickey is the focus, of course—part alter-ego, part imaginary friend, part lover, part, uh, part.  The second section addresses the speaker’s parents (I don’t think there’s any evidence of siblings), an address that’s sometimes quite direct.  The poems in the third section recoil and try to recover from “Dickey’s death feels all over me.”  The last section, I feel, is the most located in an “outside” world, beginning as it does:  “so I left my apartment.”  Without getting too reductively explicit, I believe we can detect locations like a pickup bar; a workplace; commuting; and especially, near the end, a clinical setting where certain interventions take place.

            I’d like to think the book has, in a sense, three endings: the valedictory “Dickey my door, I’m seeing”; then the single quatrain of stripped-down statement—“I feel well, but keep hoping to get well”; and then, after the last section break, the Pessoa adaptation.  In the last four poems of the book, I wanted certain quite simple words to cluster and reverberate:  words, think, feel, well. . . 

How close is your Dickey to Berryman’s Henry?

Second cousins.  Seriously, I thought much about the book’s debt to The Dream Songs, and weclome (humbly) the comparison.  It’s interesting to me how often people misremember “Mr. Bones” as a character in The Dream Songs.  There is an unnamed voice who calls Henry Mr. Bones, but there is no “Mr. Bones” per se.   I’d also maintain that Henry, inarguably, is Berryman; in fact, the lyric “I” in the early Dream Songs often has less relation to John Berryman the poet than does the “he” of Henry.  In any case, the “I” in Clangings is not me in the slightest, at least not in any autobiographical sense.

I’d like to quote the poem “Okay, here’s what we did. Dad was a quark” from Clangings.  

Okay, here’s what we did. Dad was a quark.
I took my shogun out. And the jerk grinned!
Toads marched him to where the marshland
meanders, where woods gave such a bark 

I still get a wince. Open fire, said Dickey.
We loaded him, black hole, in the swamp van.
It was premium cable! I aimed at his midline,
silver blanked into him. He’d been less empty, 

I’d have hit a vital. Roses twined in a scythe,
me and Dickey grieved. “Thou Shalt Not”
and all that smearwort. On the hospice lot,
weeds sprouted tips, like: get a life, take a life

We ditched the van at first intermission,
D. and me, we’d had our glister of venom.
There once was a time I’d have said scram.
This time a guilty sun gilded my stun gun. 

“Hey you, what’d you do with your Dad?”
yelled the groundskeeper mowing—yawn,
at least I’m a living—hospitable grass. Then:
“can’t dig here with that hole in your head.”

It sounds like something rather sinister is happening here.  Or is this more how a certain kind of language and a certain kind of mind interact?  Or, both?” 

I hope it comes across as a kind of phantasmagoric revenge fantasy involving the speaker’s father, with the sense of a plot that can’t be pinned down.  Dickey and the speaker do something to the Dad—shoot him?—but don’t kill him (“He’d been less empty/I’d have hit a vital”—and are in some way interrupted and told, more or less, to play elsewhere.  The tone starts out exuberant—It was premium cable!—but not so much so by the end.

Poetry has been defined by ‘the line.’ Verse is rather obvious in presenting ‘the line’ as its unit, but is poetry of a more sophisticated sort really doing anything different? Isn’t free verse’s ‘line’ still someone dancing—but just with the music taken away? Or is there something more mysterious involved?

I don’t think free verse is inherently more sophisticated than symmetrically metered verse. Nor is one more “formal” than the other.  On the one hand, metrical verse is predicated on a patterns of recurrence—say, five iambic feet per line, alternating four- and three-stress lines, or what have you—but the verse is artful only insofar as those patterns of recurrence are varied, syncopated, even disrupted.  A great example is the first quatrain of Shakespeare’s sonnet 129:

 

Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust . . .

 

Say those lines emphasizing the iambic pentameter, then say them again emphasizing the rhythm—that is, the metrical variations, relative stress, enjambment,  interruptive pauses—and you can’t help hearing how sophisticated is the syncopation between recurrence (meter) and variation (rhythm).

            On the other hand, the formal first principle of free verse is variation, improvisation; but that verse is artful only insofar as those variations and improvisations deploy and benefit from patterning.  As Donald Justice points out in a brilliant essay, “The Invention of Free Verse,” Ezra Pound made up one kind of free verse in 1907, probably in Crawfordville, Indiana:

 

Lips, words, and you snare them,
Dreams, words, and they are as jewels,
Strange spells of old deity,
Ravens, nights, allurement:
And they are not;
Having become the souls of song.

Eyes, dreams, lips, and the night goes.
Being upon the road once more,
They are not
.

 

You can scan those lines—you can scan prose—but you won’t find a dependably recurrent meter.  What you can hear, I think, is extraordinarily subtle rhythmic patterning that counterpoints free-verse improvisation.  In this case, “dancing free verse” strikes me as a very apt metaphor for how these lines behave, and the lines are ravishingly musical.  But well-made free verse—like well-made metrical verse—needn’t dance or sing; it can murmur, chant, blurt, curse, meditate, rhapsodize, gossip, coo, and so on.

            The language of poetry constitutes a compressed metaphor for how humans (usually it’s one human) speak—to one other, to many others, to a supposed other, or to him- or herself.  That’s as aphoristic as I can get.

I find in contemporary poetry a lot of crowding, and what I mean by that is there seems to be an excess of everything: meaning, language, suggestion, experiment, experience, nuance, feeling, coloring, shadowing, reference and word-play contained in a single poem. Is it possible that we have too much of a good thing? Lamenting there are no more famous poets, ‘where is our Keats?’ we perhaps ‘have no Keats’ precisely because we have ten thousand Keats’ cramming their poems with Keats x 10. In terms of simple composition—and I got this idea from Plato’s ‘Timaeus’—perhaps one needs space for the spaces, a length for one’s lengths, a room sufficient in size to fit all the furniture. Do you think in terms of pure compositional taste and technique, American poets are guilty of overwhelming the lay reader?

I’m skeptical of general descriptions about what contemporary poetry does or doesn’t do.  Some poetry does indeed crowd every rift with a landfill of poetic effects.  I love how Timothy Donnelly does that in The Cloud Corporation.  But there seem to me plenty of poets who compose as much by leaving out as adding in.  Here are a few lines by Jennifer Barber, from her wonderful book Given Away:

 

A bureau.
A night table.

An armchair
covered in a blue
itchy wool.

 Don’t think.
Don’t think a thing.

 There’s a lot going on in these lines—just now I’m noticing the elegant superimposition of symmetries in its stanzas (couplet/tercet/couplet composed of two sentences/one sentence/two sentences)—and between these lines.  But nothing in these lines strikes me as “crammed.”

            John Ashbery captured the dilemma of “compositional taste and technique” (nice phrase) in the first two sentences of Three Poems:  “I thought that if I could put it all down, that would be one way.  And next the thought came to me that to leave all out would be another, and truer, way.”  That says it all, no?

            Only a few of Keats’s contemporaries knew they “had their Keats” for the brief time they had him.  Most ignored or reviled his work.   We probably have our Keats—or Dickinson or whoever—but we just don’t know it.  It’s also worth recognizing that the ways people who read and write poetry value it have become much more diverse.   I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it’s harder to define—much less agree upon—what makes a good poem, let alone a great poet.  Readers with different cultural and ethnic experiences read for different reasons, and are aesthetically satisfied by different attributes.  Maybe a century from now, Lord Posterity will have preserved a crowd of Keats’s, for a crowd of different audiences.  That is, if we’re reading at all in a century. 

The Jennifer Barber is a great example of a simple modern lyric, and I agree with you that ‘nothing in these lines strikes [one] as crammed,’ but since there is so much we can take away from this poem (and which might befuddle the lay reader), the rhetorical space outside its lines feels crammed to me, if that makes any sense.

            My only quibble here about the Barber poem involves the word “crammed,” which implies to me a kind of superfluity; as soon as we’re talking about “space,” the mystery seems to inhere in what’s left out, not what’s put in.  I admire that a great deal in Jennifer’s poems, and wish I were better at leaving things out.

Regarding that famous formula, sound & sense: how often do they really become one? We say one is “sacrificed” to the other and so forth, but are they, by nature, interchangeable, or are they really two very different things? Are they similar to light and darkness, where sense is light and darkness the sound that obliterates the light? Or is sound a kind of illumination, too? Is sound always a reflection of what makes the sound? Does the sound of a string of a certain length always cause us to see (or intuit) a string of a certain length? And does sense operate the same way, leading us back to its cause, or is sense (meaning) experienced only as a cause, without any effects? Can a string plucked produce meaning? Can meaning be a string?

Words obviously have sounds when spoken out loud, and those sounds are subject to the variations of pronunciation or dialect; and words obviously have denotations sufficiently stable to allow us to, more or less, communicate with each other.  Of course sound and sense are related.  If they weren’t, you wouldn’t understand this sentence:  “I am content with the content of my poem.”

            In regard to poems, I believe “meaning” describes a relationship—between reader and text—not some dynamic that’s built into a text, absent a reader.  An unread poem means nothing.  That may seem dumbly self-evident, but I’ve had the experience of discussing a poem with others (undergraduates, often)—having a rich, attentive conversation about the poem’s textures and tones and how they affect us.  Afterwards, someone will say, “well, that was fun, but what does the poem mean?” It “means” what we just did!   What that person in fact requires is a summary of some kind that will obviate the need to reread, re-discuss, or re-experience the poem and its meanings. Weirdly, the person who asks that question is often one of the most animated participants in our meaning-making conversation.

Poe said the color, orange, and the sound of a gnat produced the same sensation in him. Scientifically, we understand Poe’s experience as the result of waves or vibrations. A poem read aloud is a vibrating object. A poem read silently does not physically wiggle. Can we say the former is the hum of the gnat, the latter, the color orange? But as someone who loves to both listen and read silently, I swear that poems I love are the same thing, whether I listen to them or read them. Does this prove that sound/sense really is one reality, or the converse: sound and sense are eternally separate, and the poet merely places them side by side?

A poem read silently does not physically wiggle.  That’s terrific.  I find myself noticing simpler—maybe more simplistic—distinctions.  When we read a poem silently, we don’t push our breath against our closed lips, gently popping them open to make the plosives; or shape our mouth cavity to articulate the long and short vowels; or manipulate our tongue, teeth and breath to express the sibilants.   When we read a poem out loud, all of these and other mouth and breath acts take place.  When it’s a very good poem—written by a master orchestrator of the physical properties of words and phrases and sentences—we are “played” by the poem; our body is its instrument.  I suppose one can become a very attentive silent reader, able to “hear” these mouth sounds in the auditory imagination.   I’m not that alert as a silent reader.  To come to an understanding of a poem, I almost always have to read it out loud—not to perform it, but to allow it to perform me.  And I don’t mean listening to the poet read his or her poem out loud (although that can be a pleasure); I’m talking about reading the poem out loud oneself.  I wish I had the patience to read and reread out loud more poems that are new to me.  I’d be much better read if I did so.

Steven, I have to ask you about word-play, since your work is amazing in this regard. You have a line from your latest book, “What, you wander, do I mean?”  Here you place wonder—implied in the punning line—and wander next to each other, two trochaic words of similar sound and meaning. 

            “What do I mean,” you ask, and that’s key. To wonder about something is to wander around looking for the answer, or to behold a great palace—in wonder—is to wander about in that palace: the effect produced by your line is immediate and gratifying—both purely intellectually and in terms of the reader’s word-cognizance. The reader physically wanders through the wonder of space and meaning itself.  The question also carries self-consciousness with it, as the narrator sort of dares the reader to consider what meaning itself is.

            Yet, when we consider this practice in its general use, there is the tendency to feel the pain associated with punning, that clash of colors in clothing, that discord of two adjacent piano keys being struck. The imp who switches the ‘o’ and the ‘a’ will eventually exasperate Apollo.

Punning seems to me language at its most self-conscious, and I was (self) conscious about pushing the envelope, and that I was likely to exasperate some readers. (To exasperate Apollo seems a noble enough aspiration for poetry.  He’s certainly had his share of praise.)

            I very much want readers to experience the speaker’s word-play as, at least at times, painful for him.  He often articulates a wish to communicate simply—“I need to work on my main idea”; “I can’t tell why//I weigh so down when I get this mad.” If the puns unlock meanings he’s unaware of, but we pick up, that’s all to the good.  “Well now, you and I are words apart,” are his last words to Dickey.  I hope that the plays and puns in that simple statement come through very clearly, and that they speak to a more general human condition.

Pain–’tears of the clown (or punster)’–pertains on many levels to the speaker’s story and his attempt to communicate.  Shakespeare puns in his tragedies.  Why does a pun unsettle us/amuse us/annoy us?  How does it work, both aesthetically and dramatically?  One of the many things Clangings does is help to answer these questions.  Thank you, Steven.

Clangings has a book trailer which you can watch here, and is published by Sarabande Books.

You can learn more about Steven Cramer and his works here.

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