From Infant to All-Too-Human: Scarriet’s First Year

Could any living creature survive the dynamic changes wrought by and upon Scarriet in its first year of existence?  We doubt it. And yet Scarriet IS a living creature, its blood and viscera made up of its manifold contributors and admirers, a roster that runs the gamut from the illustrious to the notorious, from Billy Collins down (or is it up? Let the Muse judgeth!) to horatiox. Its spark of life, however, its animating spirit, is its poetry, ranging from ABBA to Zukofsky. There is room for all, for as the children of the ‘50s were all Mouseketeers, so all those who are childlike in spirit in the noughties and tennies are all Scarrieteers. The blog is named Scarriet for a reason — no prim Harriet reciting in a stuffy drawing room, but rather a rushing birth of blood, placental fluid, and, within the mass of sodden tissue, life itself. The wail issues out of said mass: Scarriet liveth. Liveth in the offices, supermarkets, alleys, and few remaining factories, in blue jeans or ties, democratic without being demotic, and aristocratic only in matters of the spirit. Heroines most welcome, even nigh deified; heroin disdained as a soul-killing crutch. A manifesto? Let it be so, and let it be burnt.

Cut to the present: the same infant now grown to full immaturity, eager to sift and build upon the ruins of worlds past. And how much built after one short year!  A year of tumult, that witnessed the phenomenal success of March Madness, an expansive merriment that served as nothing less than a lightning rod for the poetry world. Sparks flew, sweat poured, backboards were shattered, and, in keeping with Scarriet’s primal origins, blood flowed — and out of the agony and ecstasy came a greater realization of the role poetry continues to “play” in our contemporary world(s). Scarriet’s world(s). Not all were happy, as not all can ever be, save in that Paradise in which the mass of men once put great hope. A founder of Scarriet, Christopher Woodman, departed from the masthead. The pain was felt keenly amongst those who treasure the art of poetry and discriminating criticism of same, especially with regard to the lyric bards. His voice is still heard on occasion, and his posts still extant — but as the balladeer Carly Simon has sang, “I know nothing stays the same/but if you’re willing to play the game/it’s coming around again.” And so it is. And so it always shall. Selah.

More on March Madness, for this was a threshold for Scarriet, a crossing of the Rubicon, and like all momentous undertakings, was not without peril or controversy. Was the event, which ran coeval with the NCAA basketball finals, closer in spirit to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia or FDR’s invasion of Europe?  The debate continues to rage in precincts where strong drink and stronger poetry are freely indulged. Did Scarriet lose its soul during March Madness, or did it gain it, and the world as well? Was it a “Faustian bargain” or just “fargin’ boasting”? Numbers don’t tell a whole story, certainly, but they can instruct when viewed in a spirit of equanimity and in the proper light. And Scarriet’s numbers soared during the March festivities. But was quality sacrificed to attain popular success? We doubt it, for March Madness was met with approval ranging from guarded to raucous from world-class poets such as Alan Shapiro, Lewis Buzbee, Stephen Dunn, Janet Bowdan, Reb Livingston, William Kulik, Billy Collins, Bernard Welt, Robert Pinsky and Brad Leithauser. No visit from Sharon Olds, but then she didn’t make the Sweet Sixteen.

So the numbers were there, along with approval by world class, nay, heaven class poets — where was to be found the always present snake in the garden?  Why, where it always lurks, in our hearts, in the hearts of all who draw breath. And yet the snake was tamped down for those precious moments in which great poetry was shared and exalted and glorified — not placed into a glass case for bored schoolchildren to parade past, but ricocheted off a glass backboard and hurled recklessly down a parquet floor as poets strutted their most glorious moves in all their testostrogen-fueled glory. A celebration of fertility over futility. Of passion over pedantry.

Of poetry over prose.

Happy Birthday, Scarriet.

It’s been one hell of a year.



The philosopher Benjamin Paul Blood (1832-1918) wrote the following to William James:

“Philosophy is past.  It was the long endeavor to logicize what we can only realize practically or in immediate experience.”

The experiment of March Madness has been interesting.  We have examined whether or not poetry, like the philosophy portrayed in Blood’s essay, “Pluriverse: An Essay in the Philosophy of Pluralism,” can be known best if we become profoundly self-conscious as poets and readers in a group dynamics medium in which immediate experience and practicality are pushed to their limits within that context.

20,000 fans, spilling soda and popcorn, screaming at the top of their lungs in response to a contest between, let’s say, “The Year” by Janet Bowdan, a 16th seed! and “Sunday, Tarzan In His Hammock” by Lewis Buzbee, upset winner over Mary Oliver’s fifth seeded “Flare” in first round play in the West Bracket, experienced the poem in such an intense manner—however the partisanship might have expressed itself—that the delight based on the pure excitement itself propeled the imaginative response—which has always relied on a certain suspension of disbelief—to new heights, in which the suspension of disbelief was simultaneously extended and dismantled by the crowd.

The vision of this collective consciousness, at once critical, reflective and wholly reactive, is not meant to be defined here as a definitive vision, nor should the results of these contests fill anyone with either joy or dismay.  Combatants, were these none.  The riotous fans have been, and were, you and I; once a mob, now a critic, once weeping and hollering, now holding steadily the iron pen.  Let the tattooing begin.

How shall we describe Janet Bowdan’s “The Year?”  How shall we describe her victory?  How shall we describe the young fan, who, in a fit of ecstacy, nearly fell from the top of the stadium upon the heads of the throng below, this young worshiper of this terrible and haunting poem?  How to describe the look of Buzbee in defeat, Tarzan and Jane beside him, the barely comprehending Cheetah on Tarzan’s shoulder, looking wildly around?

We sought out Bowdan for an interview, but she was gone.  The crowd had carried her away.

Earlier, at the crack of dawn, with a youngish Wordsworth showered and shaved, Billy Collins advanced to the center of our beloved March Madness court, the polished wood of the court gleaming, the clever concession stands spread around, and dominated Stephen Dunn, making sure he couldn’t breathe for a second.  “John Donne, eh?  Are you done?’  The voice of the haughty no. 2 seed in the East resounded for eons after Dunn’s poem was read.  We have to go back years before we find a game that was like this, or, find any game.  The gods were, of course, anxious.  Rules, there were none.  The fans were not silent for a moment.  The rooting was astonishing.

Bernard Welt’s “I stopped writing poetry…” plied poetry long into the evening, almost as if to send Reb Livingston away, but she stood her guard, unblinking.  Some fans in the second half had a revelation and got the brilliance of Welt’s trope: the reasons he gave for not writing poetry were actually powerful incentives to write poetry, and this was the fuel of the poem itself, but the commotion in the second balcony as Livingston was shooting her free-throws was lost on the broadcasters—they  ignored it, thinking it was just the crowd being a crowd, a 190 line poem being a 190 line poem, and fans on the floor only saw it in separate parts.  Some Welt fans ran outside, but it was too late.  Livingston was stoic as Welt’s voltage melted.

William Kulik dazzled with a ferocity not seen yet in the tournament and Margaret Atwood froze with a searching look.  Kulik started to tick tick tick as soon as the contest started, the moss covered walls closed in, and no matter how hard Atwood looked, the drama of Kulik continued to drown.

“Bored” is sure of itself, as Atwood is; she was tranformed by Kulik into what went sadly down into the shadows.

The crowd implored those shadows.

Don’t trust crowds, they say.

We trusted this one.

Tom, this is Marla Muse, down at courtside…the crowd has seen four thrillers and they want more…this is how poetry should be…I’m being lifted by this crowd and that’s how I like it…I’m looking for my little notebook….have you seen it?

No, Marla, I haven’t.


So I’m here with Marla Muse, once again, as we are about to begin play that will bring us closer to crowning a Best American Poetry Champion in 2010.

Marla, could it be a Canadian?

It could.  Magaret Atwood’s poem from Richard Howard’s 1995 volume, “Bored.”  Atwood broke Franz Wright’s heart in triple-overtime in Sweet Sixteen.  We won’t soon forget that one!

No, we won’t.   Atwood goes against William Kulik in the North final.

What does Billy Collins have to do to advance against Stephen Dunn?  Dunn, if you remember won his game in the last second against Robert Pinsky.  Meanwhile, Collins rolled over Harry Mathews with a swarming defense as “Composed Over Three Miles From Tintern Abbey” proved too much for “Histoire” to handle.

Tom, I think Billy has to get it to Wordsworth.  That’s the guy who has taken him this far. And the lambs have to bound, Tom, the lambs really have to bound.

They’ve been bounding and bounding well.  How about the two American women left in the tournament…not well known…but they’re very tough…

They are…Reb Livingston in the South final will be facing Bernard Welt…who is nervous, we’ve already seen that…and Janet Bowdan will be defending her chance to go to the Final Four in the West against Lewis “Buzz” Buzbee, who, in contrast to Welt, seems very relaxed.

Tarzan has brought his hammock to the West bracket final…

And Jane and Cheetah, of course…

Bowdan’s poem is lovely, isn’t it?

Yes, Tom, Bowdan’s poem is from Rita Dove’s 2000 volume.   Bowdan could go all the way.

We can feel the tension in the air here as the poets and publishers pour into the arena for these four contests.  I’ve never felt such excitement, really, since Athens, and those playwrighting contests, when I was just a young girl…

Marla Muse, you don’t look a day over 2,000!

Thanks, Tom!


Ladies and gentlemen!  Welcome to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  Welcome poets, judges, and all you fans!

(Wild cheers)

The Scarriet Best American Poetry March Madness Road To The Final Four Tournament has been a whopping success.


Just as a play-within-a-play charms us within the context of the play precisely by a ratio of two to one, so the best of ‘the best’ cannot help but double the enjoyment of any who would enter into the spirit of climbing to the top—of what isn’t there.  Of course there’s no best.  Of course there’s no God.  But that is why our belief is so fanatical.

(Scattered clapping, hoots and hollers.)

Margaret Atwood, Janet Bowdan, Lewis Buzbee, Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, William Kulik, Reb Livingston, and Bernard Welt…

(Terrific applause…standing ovation…)

…have climbed to the top of a mountain, a mountain as real…

(continued applause)

…as anything contained in the 1,500 poems published in the Best American Poetry’s 21 year existence.

(Mad cheering)

This is not to slight the reality of those poems…including the poems themselves which made it to the Elite Eight…

(clapping, foot stomping…)

but we all know that to write poetry is to translate doubtful thoughts on doubtful objects into a doubtful product for those who doubt, so that…

(Hoots and hollers)

…we might deliciously doubt our own doubts on what is so deliciously doubtful.


What could be more real than that?


And now may I present to you the expert on Good Poems…

Here’s Garrison Keillor!


Ahem. Thank you.  You know, with all the excitement around Best American Poetry March Madness, I’m tempted to say sports is more poetical than poetry…

(Laughter, cheers)

Who thought the Muse looked like… Howard Cosell?


Well, John Ashbery is out of the tournament.  He’s become the audience.  He’s becomes his admirers.  There you are…Hi, John!  You dominated BAP.  How can you be out of this tournament? Knocked out in the first round, right?   What happened?  (Pause for comic effect…)


[Audience member:  “Nathan Whiting!”]

Oh, yes…14th seed.   The dog poem.  Nathan Whiting turned John Ashbery into a stag.


And think of the poets who didn’t make the tournament.  August Kleinzahler?  Where is he?

(Nervous Laughter)

Ron Silliman?  Is he here?   Where is the School of…Noise?

(Groans, Laughter)

Charles Bernstein?  The School of Language.  Try to give us something more than objectivity and cleverness, fellas…

(Nervous laughter)

All kidding aside, I have a B.A. in English, so what do I know?   And not from Harvard, either.  The University of Minnesota.

(isolated cheer or two)

There’s a Golden Gopher.   That has a poetic ring to it, doesn’t it?  Golden Gopher.  Could anyone write a poem on that?   Ode to a Golden Gopher?  It would sound too strange…words are funny, aren’t they?  That’s the challenge of poetry, isn’t it?   To make words behave.   Golden Gopher ought to sound poetic, but once we hold it aloft…once we think on it…the whole thing sounds…


Let’s have a great round of applause for the Scarriet Best American Poetry Elite Eight!

(Applause, Cheers)

Congratulations, Scarriet!  You’re getting more hits than ever.  You are now the 46,793rd most popular poetry website!


Scarriet will never be the heroin of poetry appreciation.  Poems are not  appreciated on Scarriet so much as thrown off a building to see if they will fly.

To those who are still alive in the tournament, you’ve earned it.




“The Business of Love Is Cruelty” by Dean Young v.
“Sunday, Tarzan In His Hammock” by Lewis Buzbee

It scares me DY

When the King LB

Buzbee comes out strong to take the early lead! Young is showing nerves early…

of the jungle first wakes up LB

the genius we have
for hurting one another DY

A ferocious rebound by Young! No foul called! Buzbee turns sluggish…Young now in front…

I’m seven
as tall as my mother DY

Buzbee getting some height mismatches and takes back the lead!

he thinks
it ’s going to be a great day, as laden with possibility
as the banana tree with banana hands, but by ten LB

Buzbee playing with confidence now, leads by 3, 10-7.

and she’s kneeling and somehow I know DY

Young goes to the floor to get a loose ball…

exactly how to do it, calmly
enunciating like a good actor projecting DY

Young now playing with more confidence…the team is talking to each other, communicating well…score is tied, 15-15…

he’s still in his hammock, arms and legs as dull as
termite mounds. He stares at the thatched roof and realizes
that his early good mood was leftover from Saturday. LB

Buzbee standing around out there! Young regains the lead! 24-17, Young.

when he got so much done: a great day, he saved
the tiger cub trapped in the banyan, herded the hippos
away from the tourists and their cameras and guns,
restrung and greased the N-NW vines, all by noon. LB

But Buzbee puts on a 12-0 run and leads at the half! 29-24, Buzbee.

Welcome to the March Madness Best American Poetry Half-Time Report
“What does Buzbee need to do in the second half to hold on to the lead?” Keep giving it to Tarzan…get him into his rhythm…Tarzan needs to get his hands on the ball, Marla… “Young has to keep up the aggressive play and shoot better from the outside…only 1-7 from 3 pt range…Look for Bride of Frankenstein off the bench in the second half, that’s signature Young…” Right, Marla. It’s going to come down to the play of No. 7 for Young and Tarzan for Buzbee…

to the last row, shocking the ones
who’ve come in late, cowering

out of their coats, sleet still sparkling
on their collars, the voice nearly licking
their ears above swordplay and laments: DY

As the second half opens, Young thinks he’s in a theater, he seems to forget he’s playing hoops! Buzbee increases his lead, 34-26.

All day he went about his duties, not so much Kingly duties
as custodial, and last night, he and Cheetah went for a walk
under the ostrich-egg moon. LB

Buzbee turns the ball over on traveling, and oh, Young hits a 3 pointer! Buzbee up, 34-29.

I hate you DY

Young, playing more aggressively now…Buzbee a one point lead, 36-35.

This morning nothing strikes him.
The world is a stagnant river, a scummy creek’s dammed pool.
Cheetah’s gone chattering off LB

Oh! Buzbee didn’t like that call! Technical! Young goes up, 39-36!

Now her hands are rising to her face.
Now the fear done flashing through me,
I wish I could undo it, take it back,
but it’s a matter of perfection DY

Young is psyching himself out…it’s getting nasty in the paint…too much second-guessing out their by Young..oh, that shot won’t fall…he threw it out-of-bounds…Young has lost all sense of rhythm…Let’s see if Buzbee takes advantage…Young’s guards need to control the tempo and they’re playing sloppy right now…

Jane is in town,
and the rest of the animals are busy with one another—
fighting, eating, mating. Tarzan can barely move LB

Buzbee’s center has come up limping! But the rest of the team is hanging tough…playing like animals! …shot is good! What a lay-up! There’s another drive…good! Buzbee goes on an 8-0 run, leads 44-39. But there is some concern about Buzbee’s center…not moving well out there…

carrying it through, climbing the steps
to my room, chosen banishment, where
I’ll paint the hair of my model
Bride of Frankenstein purple and pink

heap of rancor, vivacious hair
that will not die. She’s rejected DY

Oh, there’s a blocked shot by Young! This team will not die! The Purple & Pink are playing ugly, but getting it done here as we head into the final 10 minutes…52-50 lead for Young…

He does not want to move. Does the gazelle ever feel this
lassitude, does it ever want to lie down and just stare,
no loner caring for its own safety, tired of the vigilance?
Does the lion, fat in the grass, ever think, fuck it,
let the wounded springbok live, who cares? LB

Buzbee calls a timeout…coach is screaming, “You got to want this! You’re giving me prose out there! Where’s the poetry?”

Of course her intended, cathected
the desires of of six or seven bodies

onto the wimp Doctor. And Herr Doktor, DY

Young in foul trouble, tossing in bodies off the bench in a desperate attempt to stay in this thing…both Young’s guards are hurt…it’s become a war of attrition…both teams exhausted…5 minutes to go and we’re tied at 55-55.

Tarzan thinks maybe he’ll go to the bathing pools
and watch the girls bathe, splashing in the sun,
their breasts and thighs perfect. He wishes someone
would bring him a gourd of palm wine, a platter
of imported fruits—kiwi, jack fruit, star fruit,
or maybe a bowl of roasted yams slathered in goat butter LB

Buzbee’s center has got to focus! Out of bounds…Young’s ball…

what does he want among the burning villages
of his proven theories? Well, he wants
to be a student again, free, drunk,

making the cricket jump, but DY

Young burning time off the clock, holding onto the ball, trying to find a good shot…2 minutes left! We’re tied at 57…

Maybe Jane will bring him a book.
He hears far off in the dense canopy a zebra’s cry for help LB

Buzbee goes up for a shot—hammered underneath! 2 free throws! First, no good, 2nd good, 58-57, Buzbee up…

his distraught monster’s on the rampage
again, lead-footed, weary, a corrosive
and incommunicable need sputtering DY

Young, not much gas left in the tank, but draws a foul! Oh, but he misses both free throws!

Buzbee leads by 1, with 24 seconds left…

Those damned jackals again, but no, he will not move. LB

Tarzan holds the ball, Young needs to get the ball back, and fouls.

Let the world take care of itself, let the world eat the world LB

Tarzan misses the first, makes the second. Buzbee leads by 2, 59-57. 19 seconds…

his chest, throwing oil like a fouled-up
motor: how many times do you have to die
before you’re really dead? DY

Young with the ball…8 seconds…3 point shot… GOOD!!! Young goes ahead 60-59 with 7 seconds left!!!

Buzbee calls time out. Here’s the throw-in from mid-court…

He can live without the call of the wild. LB

A drive to the basket, a pass back to the foul circle, here’s the shot…

He thinks. LB

at the buzzer!…GOOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!

Buzbee wins 61-60!!!

Everytime we play this game it comes out the same…?

Lewis Buzbee is our final poet in the Elite Eight.

We have our Elite Eight!


The Bride luxuriates in her Lucullan locker room after narrowly avoiding elimination from the ‘Sweet 16’

James Tate’s celebrated “Distance From Loved Ones” was seeded no. 3 in the West Bracket, and was 40-1 odds to go all the way in the 2010 Best American Poetry March Madness Tourney.

Dean Young’s “The Business of Love Is Cruelty,” with its Bride of Frankenstein trope, was given odds of 800-1 before the tournament began, and was the 14th seed in the West.

Dean Young’s upset of James Tate in the March Madness has shaken the poetry world.   Tate won a Yale Younger Prize while a student at Iowa when Dean Young was a mere 12 years old.

Sometimes it’s all about the Muse.

Lewis Buzbee’s “Sunday, Tarzan in Hammock,” also 800-1 to win it all, takes on Dean Young in the next round.  The winner makes it to the Elite 8.

This is Marla Muse reporting from the Kennedy Center.

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