THE FINAL FOUR AS MARCH MADNESS CONCLUDES!

ISLANDS > KARINA SMIGLA-BOBINSKI

Scarriet finishes its March Madness Poetry Tournament (the Sublime) for the year 2020 in this post. Congratulations to all the participants, in this our 10th anniversary season.

The crowds are fevered, excited, massing in great numbers into the arena with whoops and screams, as Final Four play descends upon March Madness Island.

Ovid (Classical Bracket) It is art to conceal art.

Matthews (Romantic Bracket) Green dells that into silence stretch away.

Fitzgerald (Modern Bracket) So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Sociu (Post-Modern Bracket) The quakes moving for nothing, under uninhabited regions.

When it comes to the sublime, we have no time to think.

The sublime stops thought as it overwhelms our senses.

But paradoxically, poetry is not sensual—poetry is born of a priori thought; it is a medium made, and that medium, language, is a system of signs, not something which, in itself, is sensual; nor does the creative impulse have anything that we can recognize as sensual—we cannot “see” the chess player thinking, nor do we know how the moves of the chess pieces are shaped by the mind, or what sensuality belongs to any decisions as such.

And, as opposed to the mere 64 square chess board of the mere chess player, the blank page of the poet contains many more possible “moves” than a chess board, which nothing physical could understand in real time and not be overwhelmed and defeated before it starts.

Perhaps the sublime is the paradoxical attempt of thought to be physical—the poem understood physically is sublime by this very fact, beyond any “content” per se.

But this does not seem quite right—content must matter.  The sublime simply cannot be codified in words.  And  yet—would the sublime be satisfied with no definition of itself?

I suppose one could attempt a formula for the sublime, as Poe did, with his “Raven”—what is the best way to write a popular, yet learned poem?  How many lines?  What subject?  What structure?

To attempt a definition of the sublime right here and now (as fans at this moment are filling the arena, and before Marla Muse has appeared on the scene):

A sublime expression requires two compact, highly simple, and distinct, ideas which war and unite in a wave/particle state of paradox, in a manner which gives us a pleasant, non-thinking experience.

Ovid: It is art to conceal art.

If art is good, then we should not want to conceal it, and if art is bad, then art is good to conceal itself, but how can art be both good and bad?—in both cases Ovid’s assertion would seem to be false.

Unless art is both good and bad—bad when it is not concealed, good when it is concealed, and therefore good when it conceals itself, and therefore the concealing (which if it is good, we don’t see) is the good action, and therefore it does fit our definition: “two compact, highly simple, and distinct, ideas which war and unite in a wave/particle state of paradox.”  But does it meet the second requirement?  Does Ovid’s “It is art to conceal art” give us a “pleasant, non-thinking experience?” For the cheering, singing, and excitable Ovid fans, the answer would seem to be yes.

“Green dells that into silence stretch away” would seem—

But now it is too late.  Play has begun, Marla Muse has turned down the lights; fires lit all around dance to the collective urges of the fans.

Away, away stretch the green dells…

The vista resists the concentrated might of the screaming circle in the center of the throng.

The art of each opponent looks for an opening, creates an opening—but to enter, or to trap?

What risks are taken!  The “art” is momentarily exposed, and a gasp goes up from the crowd!  Matthews suddenly brings what he has from silence, into the green dells…

The play is unbelievable!

The fans are going crazy!

Ovid concealed a bit too long!

Cornelius Matthews wins! He’s going to the championship!

~~~~~~~~~

In the other Final Four match-up, F. Scott Fitzgerald has us “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

We attempt to go forward, but the current takes us back.

Here is the whole passage:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an æsthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Fitzgerald’s passage has so many marvelous parts: “that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house…”

Please open your gold filigree program, Poetry March Madness acolytes, to Dan Sociu’s poem (Marla will bring up the lights in just a moment):

Nimic Nu Mai E Posibil

Nothing is possible anymore between me

And a nineteen year old girl, just as nothing

was possible when I was nineteen

years old. I listened to them carefully, they ruffled my hair,

they’d gently reject my touches, no, Dan,

you are not like this, you are a poet. They came

to me for therapy, they’d come with their eyes in tears

to the poet. I was a poet and everyone was in love

around the poet and none with him.

The poet would go out every evening

quaking like a tectonic wave and

in the morning he’d come back humiliated

in his heart—the quakes moving

for nothing, under uninhabited regions.

******

Here, then, the paradox which slams us in the heart as true:

“they’d come with their eyes in tears to the poet. I was a poet and everyone was in love around the poet and none with him.

Dan Sociu defeats F. Scott Fitzgerald!

~~~~~~~~~~

Dan Sociu faces Cornelius Matthews in the 2020 March Madness Championship!!

Sociu has saved the best for last.

“Green dells that into silence stretch away” has concision, it has painterly beauty, and loftiness and yes, sublimity.

And now the conclusion of Sociu’s poem:

The poet would go out every evening

quaking like a tectonic wave and

in the morning he’d come back humiliated

in his heart—the quakes moving

for nothing, under uninhabited regions.

The arena erupts. The fans are now pure energy. The sounds of the arena blare across the sea, the news hesitant and anxious no longer. Even the children know.

Dan Sociu has won the 2020 Poetry March Madness.

 

 

MADNESS PLAY IN ALL THE BRACKETS!

Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (article) | Khan Academy

We present the field narrowed down to 32 after first round play.

The Sublime March Madness Tournament was bent in a certain direction when Homer advanced in the Classical bracket and Plato did not.

Will spectacle prevail over thought?

Perhaps not. Two critics did advance. Leonardo da Vinci and G. E. Lessing.

Painting is chiaroscuro. Poetry is actions.  Leave it to the classical age to leave us with what is what.

Thomas Gray, 16th seed winner in the Classical Bracket, from the early 18th century, already sounds Romantic, and come to think of it, so does Shakespeare.

Sophocles has the first detective story—“Thou Art The Man” is a title of a lesser-known Edgar Poe crime story.  Homer rolls out Man Unsentimental.

Ovid’s icy “It is art to conceal art.”  What does it mean?  Would Socrates approve of the sentiment? Is “The Republic” art?  What, then, is “art?”

Unable to answer this question, Ovid proves too much for the rest of the competition, and advances to the Final Four.

CLASSICAL

Homer “Friend, you will die”
Sophocles “Thou art the man”
Ovid “It is art to conceal art”
Dante “Death had undone so many”
Shakespeare “When I waked, I cried to dream again”
da Vinci “Painting is crowned by chiaroscuro”
G.E. Lessing “Actions are the subjects of poetry”
Thomas Gray “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day”

~~~~~~~

Goethe seems to sum up the Romantic, “feeling is all,” but the Romantics could be accurate and lurid painters: “The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream.” “Green dells that into silence stretch away” “Down to a sunless sea.” “Tyger, tyger, burning bright.”

Shelley’s “I wield the flail of the lashing hail” is Romantic as hell.

The unknown Cornelius Matthews wins with “Green dells that into silence stretch away”

ROMANTIC

Blake “Tyger, tyger, burning bright”
Goethe “Feeling is all”
Coleridge “Down to a sunless sea”
Shelley “I wield the flail of the lashing hail”
Horne “The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream”
Barrett “In sorrowful complaint which trailed along the gorges”
Byron “They slept on the abyss without a surge”
Cornelius Matthews “Green dells that into silence stretch away”

~~~~~~~

In the Modern bracket, expressions of ennui and entropy: “Man slowly slipping back to all fours” “…borne back” “I am not Prince Hamlet” “…vaguely life leaks away” “All quiet”

Virginia Woolf has the intriguing “It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex.”

Conrad’s hearty “yell for yell to a westerly gale” is definitely Homeric.

But an age defines itself. The winner of the Modern bracket has to represent the modern.  This is the understanding.

Emerging as the winner in the Modern Bracket is “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”

MODERN

Conrad “yell for yell to a westerly gale”
Remarque “All quiet on the western front”
Thurber “Man slowly slipping back to all fours”
Woolf “It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex”
Fitzgerald “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”
Eberhart “In June, amid the golden fields, I saw a groundhog lying dead”
Eliot “No, I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”
Auden “In headaches and in worry vaguely life leaks away”

~~~~~~~~~~

The Post-Modern Bracket has not had time to be immortalized; it is too recent.

The lineup is amazing. Sean Harvey’s heart-breaking memoir, Carolyn Forche’s harrowing tale of terrorism, Brian Rihlmann’s hopeless family crisis, Jeff Callaway’s paean to poetry, Stephen Cole’s mystical warning, Philp Nikolayev’s chemical intrigue, Dan Sociu’s introspective on the poet, and Mary Angela Douglas’ “until the sorrows”

The winner in the Post-Modern?

Dan Sociu

“the quakes moving for nothing, under uninhabited regions”

POST-MODERN

Sean Harvey  “I can sing it. I can sing “Eleanor Rigby” for you.”
Carolyn Forche “Something for your poetry, no?”
Brian Rihlmann “The crackle of the crematory flames told you nothing”
Jeff Callaway “The greatest poems are never written down”
Stephen Cole “In the high mystical arch where the pigeons blur”
Nikolayev “Music turned itself on and wouldn’t quit, that bizarre non-quitter music.”
Sociu “the quakes moving for nothing, under uninhabited regions.”
Douglas “until the sorrows ransacked you”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Congratulations to the Bracket Winners!

On to the Final Four!

 

 

 

 

LAST TWO FIRST ROUND MATCHES IN SUBLIME MARCH MADNESS!

Clearing in the Woods | Detroit Institute of Arts Museum

We love the hum of crowds, their jostling, anonymous company, when, with friends, we climb the stairs, joking with each other, on the way to our seats in the Poetry Arena, for Poetry March Madness.

After these two matches, all 64 contestants will have made their sublime presence known against an opponent in the 2020 Scarriet March Madness—its 10th anniversary.

Ten years of Poetry March Madness on Scarriet.  It’s hard to believe.

What do you think, Marla?  A proud moment, huh?

Marla Muse:  It’s only time, Tom. Don’t be so full of yourself. It’s only time.

True, Marla, true.

The fans are crazy about this contest.  Here’s one of the most haunting love poems ever written, “Litany” by 7th seeded Carolyn Creedon:

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 lie 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 lie 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 baptize me with sex and cool water?
I will come back from Richmond. I will smooth the damp spiky hairs from the
back of your 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
.
.
Does this need any commentary?  Do great poems need any added words?
.
Opposite Carolyn Creedon is a poet of faith and exquisite beauty, whose many poems invoke childhood reigning over the fallen: the sensitive and delicate 10th seeded Mary Angela Douglas. She presents a portion of a poem; many of the sublime examples are excerpts. Few words, but we still feel Mary Angela Douglas has a good chance to win, since how can the soul deny the steady iamb (the voice you hear from long a-go…) drifting into a surprise, which stuns—the trochaic ransacked.  Never has one word been so elevated by the melody of poetry.
.

the voice you hear
from long ago
could be the voice
of all the snows
could be the light of all the stars
of all the feelings near or far
you felt just when
the world was new
until the sorrows
ransacked you

Both poets are from the American South—which implies poems of heartbreak and pessimism, and a beauty of decay which is sadder and more beautiful than anything.  In the calm evening the poets circle each other. It’s a shame that someone has to lose.

~~~~~~~~~~~
Dan Sociu lives in Romania. This masterpiece was translated with help from Ana-Maria Tone.  The Romanian title by the 8th seeded Sociu is “Nimic Nu Mai E Posibil.”

Nothing is possible anymore between me

And a nineteen year old girl, just as nothing

was possible when I was nineteen

years old. I listened to them carefully, they ruffled my hair,

they’d gently reject my touches, no, Dan,

you are not like this, you are a poet. They came

to me for therapy, they’d come with their eyes in tears

to the poet. I was a poet and everyone was in love

around the poet and none with him.

The poet would go out every evening

quaking like a tectonic wave and

in the morning he’d come back humiliated

in his heart—the quakes moving

for nothing, under uninhabited regions.

It’s impossible to define “poet” without intellectual bragging in a high-toned manner which no one quite believes, on one hand, or sounding the alarm against falsity and the fake, on the other. If a poet is truly praised, the definition begins to leave the poet behind; despite Shelley’s “Defense,” for instance, no one looks at today’s poets and then believes what Shelley said.  In this poem, Sociu manages to capture better than anyone, what’s going on underneath what all of us talk about when we talk about the “poet.”  “Nimic Nu Mai E Posibil” manages to sympathize, laud, pity, and disdain what a poet is in a manner visionary, intimate, grounded, and sublime.

Ninth seeded Ben Mazer is one of our best living poets.  In “Cirque D’etoiles,” the sublime keeps gaining speed as we read:

And after all is made a frozen waste
of snow and ice, of boards and rags. . .
if I should see one spark of permanent,
… one chink of blue among the wind-blown slags
approaching thus, and mirroring my surmise,
one liquid frozen permanence, your eyes. . .
should meet you at the end of time
and never end. . .
for always, even past death, you are my friend. . . .
and when at last it comes, inevitable,
that you shall sit in furs at high table
(for what other fate can one expect?)
dispensing honours, correlating plans
for every cause, for education, science. . .
what will I miss? how can I not be there?
who see you sputtering wordless in despair. . .
as I do now “miss nothing, nothing”
and to know you are some other man’s
(the stupid jerk), who once had your compliance. . .
and do these things ever end? (and if so, where?)
I ask myself, and should I feel despair?
to know, to love, to know, and still not care?
in winter, spring, and summer, and in fall,
on land or sea, at any time at all,
to know that half the stars on each night shine,
the other half are in your eyes, and mine. . .
and what is there? And what, I ask, is there?
Only these hurt and wounded orbs I see
nestled against a frozen stark brick wall. . .
and there are you, and there is me,
and that is all, that is all. . .
How from this torment can I wrestle free?
I can’t. . . . for thus is my soliloquy.
And you shall sit there serving backers tea.
And running ladies circles. Think of me. . .
Think of me, when like a mountainous waste
the night’s long dreaming stretches to a farther coast
where nothing is familiar. . . two paths that may have crossed
discover what had long been past recall. . .
that nothing’s really changed at all,
that we are here!
Here among flowering lanterns of the sea,
finite, marking each vestige of the city
with trailing steps, with wonder, and with pity!
And laugh, and never say that you feel shitty,
are one whose heart is broken, like this ditty.
And think that there is nothing there to miss.
Think “I must not miss a thing. I must not miss
the wraps, the furs, the teaspoon, or the kiss.”
And end in wishes. And leave not this abyss.
For all is one, beginning as it’s done.
Never forgetting this, till I am no one.
There is no formula that can forget. . .
these eyes pierce though ten thousand suns have set,
and will keep setting. . . now tuck in your head,
the blankets folded, and lay down in your bed.
And stir the stars, long after we are dead.

The fans are on their feet for both Dan Sociu and Ben Mazer.

The first round of Sublime March Madness action is complete.

The poets gather in the rotunda for music and wine.

Some make their way down the wooded pathways towards the sighing shore alone.

 

 

 

DEREK WALCOTT, STEPHEN COLE, PHILIP NIKOLAYEV, CAMILLE RANKINE, AS MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES!

italian renaissance landscape painting | Norge, Mørk, Søk

Poems can be anything.  The crowd milling outside the March Madness arena tucked between mountains on the island know this.  From the Classical “I’m going to tell you a story, children, listen!” to the Romantic, “I am the story!” to the Modern “look at that story” to the Post-Modern “Story? We don’t need no story,” it’s finally a lullaby to all.

How do we sort out poems?  One way is by reticence; some poets are non-talkers and want to pour images. Some poets are talking in your ear all the time.

Some poets, if you say something to them, will look at you keenly, in silence.  Others, will respond, “Well, what I think…” and never stop talking.

These are the two types of persons, and the two types of poems.  The first kind you fall in love with, the other, you marry.  One is mysterious and doesn’t talk enough.  The other talks too much.

In these two Madness contests, we have three reticent types and one talker.

Fifth-seeded Derek Walcott, in his “This Page,” is not conversing with anyone; he is drawing back a curtain, and we don’t see any people. It reminds us of Wordsworth.

This page is a cloud between whose fraying edges
a headland with mountains appears brokenly
then is hidden again until what emerges
from the now cloudless blue is the grooved sea
and the whole self-naming island, its ochre verges,
its shadow-plunged valleys and a coiled road
threading the fishing villages, the white, silent surges
of combers along the coast, where a line of gulls has arrowed
into the widening harbour of a town with no noise,
its streets growing closer like print you can now read,
two cruise ships, schooners, a tug, ancestral canoes,
as a cloud slowly covers the page and it goes
white again and the book comes to a close.

Walcott’s opponent, Stephen Cole, (12th seed) is also showing something to us—and not revealing the common movements of people. (Cole calls his poem, “Unreal City Philosophy Breakdown):

Keep the knives in the decider box
Where you make your choices.
Rattle the caustic chambers pots
At eye level
In the high mystical arch
Where the pigeons blur.
Reality is the paragon of confusion.

The surface cave is painted
In primary colors
On a mountain wall
But the snow is real.

It bares repeating
The fake cementing
On fracas light goes on
Piecing itself together
Over the top of a barren dream scape.
How reliable after all
Are dreams in dreams?

It goes just that far
And no further.
At this point
the universe turns back on itself.
The content is thrown back into eye
For the regulated comfort.
If some nefarious spirit
Changes the channel:
You’re gone.

Both Cole and Walcott are addressing a “you” in their poems—but neither one is really having a chat with us. They give us a glimpse of an entire world; the Walcott is framed more simply, Cole’s is more intricate and bizarre, and takes a menacing turn at the end. We had to include the world-renowned Walcott in this Sublime tournament; he has been called Homeric.  Cole is merely a fantastic poet we found toiling away on Facebook.

The poems are lovely, but one is more interesting.

Stephen Cole advances.

~~~~~~~~

Philip Nikolayev, the sixth seed, talks non-stop in his “Litmus Test,” and we think it is one of the greatest poems in English; it is his future. It needs no comment, much less hype.  Here it is:

Didn’t want to go to the damn party in the first place,
needed to “catch a lecture” the next morning
on Renaissance Florence, one of those stupid 9-a.m.-on-Saturday
events, but my buddy insisted sangria, perfect chance to chat
up Jessica and Jake, so we went
at midnight. Sangria my ass. I mean it tasted extra nice,
bootilicious, but they’d run out of ice
and Jessica and Jake had already left. Half an hour later
three spluttering purple volcanoes
of indeterminate size, but perfectly harmless and hospitable,
spun winking out of the texture of the tabletop,
pouring forth an interminable wordlist full of words
into pulsating Buddha-faced saucers. My armchair
floated in the breeze over the seaweed-infested carpet
dead to rights. I was chary of wading through its Dead Sea
waters, though I needed to pee. My buddy goes man,
I think we just drank some acid, should’ve
poured the stuff that’s on the table but I wanted it cold
from the fridge cuz they’ve no ice
so anyway we can always and later too you know
all that, now best stay where you are, best to just to hang in look
I know you have to pee “like ouch” but listen
I’ve been thinking this week all week every day
for three years now, it’s driving me nuts I’ve always
wanted to talk you up about how you know sometimes
that feeling that we call sublime or subliminal whichever
you can also feel it right that wholesome feeling
a bird tipping from branch to branch to branch in luminous light
a bee crawling from bract to bract a strange kind of lyric feeling
the inexpressible what we felt in childhood
is really what we’re all about like they’re cluing you in on it now
gluing suing slewing you in on it. Spack,
a strange music turned itself on and wouldn’t quit,
that bizarre non-quitter music. Anyway when they sang
happy birthday dear Humphrey
at 2 a.m. I needed to pee especially badly
and trudged off through the interminable apartment
though my buddy hadn’t yet finalized his discourse.
I’d never been in a non-finite apartment before,
after 27 rooms I stopped counting
because I almost wet my pants before finding the bathroom
plus had to wait another ten minutes
while someone was getting sick in there.
And finally when I felt I was going back to normal
and washing my hands, I saw in the mirror,
which was in the key of E flat minor,
myself as a winged demon with golden horns on top
and colored rotating spirals for my pupils, my stare
expressive of the universal doom.
Then there was a descent down the three-mile jade
staircase and gigantic escalades of diamond snow.
My buddy and I sat to our heart’s content on steaming grilles
in the pavement by the Store 24 warming ourselves
(though in fact it was hot) with other nocturnal characters,
who thankfully seemed to know no English, and in the end
I realized that we are chemical through and through,
so determinate and so chemical, while sliding in crystal insects up
the conic mountain of spacetime, with its mass but no weight,
pure composition. Soon by the creaking of refreshed pedestrians
I opened up to the idea that there was one hour left until the lecture.
Is supermarket coffee inherently such a palette of taste,
or was it the radically contingent chemistry of my palate
that temporarily made it so? My buddy had left to sleep it off
(wish I had his worries), but I tried to recompose alone
the ordinary coherency of life. All I heard were the dubious
reverberations of a mid-90s train passing underground.
Savonarola’s sermon, to which I had eventually made it
across the Alps, focused on the ideals of asceticism, poverty
and visionary piety. His project of a bohemian republic
appealed to me deeply as I took faithful notes
diagonally across my notebook (which was unliftable).
Fellow aspirants peeked at me inquisitorially,
but I waved them off, staring at the preacher’s
skinny jowl, enormous nose, dark cowl in profile. Then
I had nothing left or planned for the rest of Saturday
except to get home to my two-bit moth-devoured
studio with its many topological holes
and zip up my brain. I stepped across some literature
to my solitary bed, dedicated exclusively to the twin purposes
of study and sleep, and elongated myself as best I could.
Sleep was out of the question, issues of the irreducible
multiplicity pressing harshly upon my overburdened lobes.
I yearned to be one, complete, so I arched and reached
for the telephone. Yes, dropped some acid last night
first time ever, haven’t slept. Please come save me,
I hate acid. You hadn’t slept much since New York either,
but you arrived instantly, as if wading through atrocious snow
came as naturally to you as levitation to a saint.
I laughed suddenly, for the first time in a month,
shocked to discover your red hair had its usual color.
You had American Spirit cigarettes (I was out),
and in minutes we stood at the foot of Lee Bo’s Cantonese Kitchen,
whose second floor seemed unreachable on foot.
I sighed with relief in the pentatonic elevator.
In the bathroom things went well this time,
no dragons in the mirror. You fed me with a spoon,
then with chopsticks. The hot and sour soup
was indeed hot and sour, it counteracted my internal chill,
and the salt jumbo shrimp were verily salty and jumbo.
The green tea you poured into me sip by tiny sip
made me realize for the first time
how perfect we were for each other. I wept like a whale.
You had changed my chemical composition forever.

The 11th seeded Camille Rankine, in her poem, “Emergency Management,” recently published in The New Yorker, the iconic “limousine liberal” magazine, has a bodily reflection theme similar to Nikolayev’s:
.
.
The sun eats away at the earth, or the earth eats away
at itself and burning up,
.
I sip at punch.
So well practiced at this
living. I have a way of seeing
.
things as they are: it’s history
that’s done this to me.
It’s the year I’m told
.
my body will turn rotten,
my money talks but not enough,
I feel my body turn
against me.
.
Some days I want to spit
me out, the whole mess of me,
but mostly I am good
.
and quiet.
How much silence buys me
.
mercy, how much
silence covers all the lives it takes to make me.
.
In the event of every day and its newness
of disaster, find me sunning on the rooftop, please
don’t ask anything of me.
.
If I could be anything
I would be the wind,
.
if I could be nothing
I would be.
.
.
We love this poem.
.
But Nikolayev’s poem has more experience.
.
Philip Nikolayev wins.
.
Gripping their rolled-up programs, or littering them, or seeking to have them signed, the drifting, poem-happy, March Madness crowd is talking, talking, talking, and going, going, gone…

 

MORE POST-MODERN BRACKET PLAY IN SUBLIME MARCH MADNESS!!!

Image result for blade runner

Celebs are everywhere for this first round match up! We feature a Hollywood film—as it takes on a mere poem!

Marla Muse: I influence the movies too, but not nearly as much as I would like.

Aww, Marla, you don’t know nuttin’ about da movies!

Marla Muse: That which merely jars the senses makes people dumb and dumber.

Dumb and Dumber!  One of my favorites!

Marla Muse: Anyway, whatever aspires to the sublime, I am there.

Another one of my favorites—Blade Runner.

Rutger Hauer:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark
Near the Tannhauser Gate.
All those moments
Will be lost in time, like tears
In the rain. Time to die.

Taking on Hollywood is Brian Rihlmann, with this untitled poem:

we used to joke about it
on days when you could—
his possible ethnicity
his identity…
the “who?” of this man
she kept from you
for 45 years—
even in her final breaths

and the crackle of the crematory flames
told you nothing
nor the rising smoke
nor the box of her ashes
you carried up the flank of Mt. Rose
and scattered in sight of that pond

once, when I hiked up there
alone….after we had died, also
I spoke to her—
“you know you fucked her up….
don’t you?” who were you protecting?”

“mother—your shield was nothing
but a sword…
and she is still falling on it.”

Rihlmann’s poem is like a whole movie.

It’s an interesting thing. You can watch a two hour movie and think, “The essence of what I saw could fit on a small post-it note”—especially if it’s an intimate family drama where people fight and there’s a love/sex scene or two, and a family secret is revealed, and after the credits roll over sad music with a car driving down the road, you’re left with a feeling: this wasn’t bad, it calmed me down, because I was able to forget about my problems for two hours, but finally, it really doesn’t matter, other than X can really act, and why is that same English dude in almost every film I see?

And then you read a 22 line poem in about 25 seconds—and damn if it doesn’t kill you, and feel like an entire movie.  A two hour movie on a postage stamp.

So what wasted more of your time and money?

Brian Rihlmann advances!

Astonishment rises up from the crowd.  Hollywood starlets, in a cloud of perfume, ascend to congratulate the poet, Brian Rihlmann.

~~~~~~~

Speaking of movies, the Scarriet Madness Committee saw this poem on You Tube and decided it was extraordinary.  The poet is Jeff Callaway, and “The Greatest Poems Of All” video is linked in the comments below.

The greatest poems are never written down,
But lonely and forgotten before pen can be found,
The greatest poems never find the ink,
In the time it takes you to think;
Slowly with time they fade,
And face the guillotine of jilted poems
And unrequited lovers,
Or glued to my own vague memory
Of what could have been
If only I’d had a pen,
And the recollection
To keep repeating what it was
I was trying to say.

The greatest poems are girls
Who poured Dewars on the rocks
Down their breasts with a splash of water
As I drink it off.

The greatest poems lick the ink
From the tip of my idea.
The greatest poems of all get drunk
From the bottle, straight, no chaser,
No requiem for a dream,
No teen queen Chinese angels on a silver screen,
No Hollywood homecoming queens,
Leaping side to side in ecstasy,
Or just beautiful girls who once
Gave me their phone numbers,
Or girls back in high school
Who kissed me, and later became strippers,
Midnight sirens to madness, mad, drunkard,
Barroom brawls, bras, panties, imported beers.

The greatest poems of all, who put my drinks
On my tab, and heavenly broads
Who brought me elixers which I did drink
Down into my self the likes of abinsthe,
Sugar, laudunum, or I read
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
Mad at midnight, typing poems furiously
Toward glory, or mayhem, or maybe for
Nothing at all, or maybe just
For the greatest poems of all.

So here, here! to the greatest poems of all!
To bikini contests, to Bikini Kill, to Bukowski,
To Rimbaud and other roughnecks,
To the wet T-shirts at Cedar Isle,
And to the Cedar Creek Lake rememberers
Who still remember all of the greatest poems of all.

To Siberian huskies named Molly who lived in Dallas Texas
With dirty filth, and to dirty filth,
To pain and pills and poems,
To words that slide into lyrical oblivion;
Sometimes these can be
The better rhymes of all times,
Dare I say the greater poems that can rhyme
From poets here today, like drunken
Ramblings, drunken one nighters,
Far beyond driven, drunk drivers,
In Dracula, no more drama before hot actress,
Sexy angel poetess,
Prostitutes, politics, and to the Texas outlaw press,
And to all of the greatest poems of all.

To Polly, to Pam, to the paranormal,
To the ghosts of the greatest poems of all,
To the ghouls, to the grim reaper,
To death, and its poetic casting call for us all;
I’d like to give a shout out to the gangsters,
Of the ghettos of Grand Prairie,
To the hypodermic hipsters of Plano
Who never made it, never got to hear
The greatest poems of all.

To poems that got kicked out of Magnolia
For drinking salt shakers, fat jokes, plastic chairs,
Who never swept the petty shit,
But always pet the sweaty shit,
From shinola to shangri-la,
From 26th and San Gabriel to the angel Gabriel,
From trumpets to cherubim,
To these crazy, insane, hot American chicks
Who love poets, poems, and Palm Pilots,
To an Austin poetry renaissance, or to purgatory.

How ’bout another round of drinks
To the greatest poets and poems of all.

Jeff Callaway’s opponent is a poem also plain-spoken, without pretense.

“How I Got That Name” by Marilyn Chin.

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin.
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g
of “becoming.” Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paper son
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn.”
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn’t pronounce the “r.”
She dubbed me “Numba one female offshoot”
for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die
in sublime ignorance, flanked
by loving children and the “kitchen deity.”
While my father dithers,
a tomcat in Hong Kong trash—
a gambler, a petty thug,
who bought a chain of chopsuey joints
in Piss River, Oregon,
with bootlegged Gucci cash.
Nobody dared question his integrity given
his nice, devout daughters
and his bright, industrious sons
as if filial piety were the standard
by which all earthly men are measured.

*

Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,
how thrifty our sons!
How we’ve managed to fool the experts
in education, statistic and demography—
We’re not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.
Indeed, they can use us.
But the “Model Minority” is a tease.
We know you are watching now,
so we refuse to give you any!
Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!
The further west we go, we’ll hit east;
the deeper down we dig, we’ll find China.
History has turned its stomach
on a black polluted beach—
where life doesn’t hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of “Santa Barbara”
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a “bitch.”
Oh God, where have we gone wrong?
We have no inner resources!

*

Then, one redolent spring morning
the Great Patriarch Chin
peered down from his kiosk in heaven
and saw that his descendants were ugly.
One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge
Another’s profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one may never, never marry.
And I, his least favorite—
“not quite boiled, not quite cooked,”
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—
too listless to fight for my people’s destiny.
“To kill without resistance is not slaughter”
says the proverb. So, I wait for imminent death.
The fact that this death is also metaphorical
is testament to my lethargy.

*

So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin,
married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong,
granddaughter of Jack “the patriarch”
and the brooding Suilin Fong,
daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong
and G.G. Chin the infamous,
sister of a dozen, cousin of a million,
survived by everybody and forgotten by all.
She was neither black nor white,
neither cherished nor vanquished,
just another squatter in her own bamboo grove
minding her poetry—
when one day heaven was unmerciful,
and a chasm opened where she stood.
Like the jowls of a mighty white whale,
or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla,
it swallowed her whole.
She did not flinch nor writhe,
nor fret about the afterlife,
but stayed! Solid as wood, happily
a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized
by all that was lavished upon her
and all that was taken away!

Edgar Allan Poe, in his “Philosophy of Composition,” said the ideal length is about 100 lines for a poem aiming to be popular but also critically admired.  His “Raven” was 108 lines.

Since Poe’s time, popular poems with critical weight tend to be about 20 lines (Do Not Go Gentle, The Road Not Taken) and this may be the result of shorter modern attention spans.  Eliot’s Prufrock (and Eliot secretly studied Poe) is about 150 lines.  I’m not sure what Poe would have thought about haiku.  Perhaps Poe’s formula is a bit of a stuffy old joke—yet surely a poem’s length is not without some significance in the way it makes an impression on us.

Marilyn Chin’s poem is 95 lines.

Jeff Callaway’s poem is 82 lines, so they’re both in the neighborhood of what Poe was asking for.

At the ‘100 line’ length, you feel like you’re reading something.  You’re in something.  You’re an audience to something. The poet (how long was “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner?”) has you, so to speak.  The poem better be good, if it has any chance to be liked, if it’s more than 20 lines.

Songs we listen to should last, minimally, about 2 minutes, and Poe’s formula then, equates reading a poem, in terms of time, with listening to a song.

What is “The Raven,” if not a performance piece—thus a song recording?   And is it any accident, that Jeff Callaway’s rather lengthy poem now sits in You Tube as a ‘song performance?’  Marilyn Chin’s poem is about her, and the self-worth one needs to pursue a poem about oneself certainly needs to rise to the level of a performance.  Otherwise, you are too humble, and let’s face it, no good poet is humble.

These poems by Chin and Callaway, brought together briefly by March Madness 2020, have a similar raucous, yet resigned, spirit; in a way, they are both happy/sad drinking songs.

We like their lengths. We like them both exceedingly.

They insinuate themselves into the evening, resting on every leaf surrounding the arena, and upon every tongue in the arena, poems meant to be, in our contest, a moaning and a groaning, of the sublime.

 

 

THE POST-MODERN BRACKET BEGINS PLAY IN THE SUBLIME MARCH MADNESS

Image result for large arena at night

This is always exciting, Marla. We now have play between living poets, as we’ve reached the so-called post-modern age (for a lack of a better word for it).

Marla Muse: All poets are living to me.

The Classical, Romantic and Modern first round action is complete. The mobs from the Modern Bracket play have been cleared off (the Dylan Thomas fans went crazy, for some reason), and the island and the arena are somewhat calm again.

Here’s what we’ve got coming up:

The first Sublime offering in the Post-Modern Bracket is the Beatles, their psychedelic number from 1967, “A Day In The Life:”

I read the news today, oh boy.
About a lucky man who made the grade.
And though the news was rather sad,
I just had to laugh.
I saw the photograph.
He blew his mind out in a car.
He didn’t noticed that the lights had changed.
A crowd of people stood and stared.
They’d seen his face before.
Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords.

I saw a film today, oh boy.
The English army had just won the war.
A crowd of people turned away.
But I just had to look
Having read the book.

I’d love to turn you on.

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head.
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat,
Made the bus in seconds flat.
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I read the news today, oh boy.
4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all.
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

I’d love to turn you on.

Paul McCartney said he would have taught literature if he hadn’t made it in rock music.  John Lennon, who had been an art school student, published Edward Lear-like writings in the early 60s.  If you are famous, and if you know everyone is going to listen to what you say, this alone will make you a better artist. It can destroy you, as well, especially when you begin to resent the public, but if you’re confident, and not misanthropic, having a large audience inspires you.  Paul and John, like other rock groups from time to time, had a window of time where they produced great work, which only got better as they experienced the ‘high’ of positive feedback. When the audience begins to drift away, you get depressed, and the magic is gone. You realize it wasn’t you. It was the moment. It was the muse.

The 16th seed opponent of “Day in the Life” is a short memoir found by the Scarriet March Madness committee on Facebook.  The author is Sean Harvey. If you’ve never heard of him, it’s okay.

Is “Day In the Life” more sublime?

Or this?

My Eleanor Rigby. It was 1974, and I was about 11 years old and a student at Charles Peck Elementary. Before the administration figured out that I really wasn’t all that bright, I was briefly in what was then referred to as “the gifted” program for smart kids. I hated it because the special sessions only occurred Tuesdays and Thursdays during physical education, which to me was the best part of the day. I’d be immersed in dodge ball, and I’d see some kid in the distance coming to fetch me to take me away to the creepy portable building; a windowless classroom-like trailer on wheels located at the far end of campus.

The Tuesday and Thursday buzzkill went on for a year, until one day I noticed that there was a new girl in the class. She was a Hollywood version of a shy child, with simple short brown hair and thick-framed glasses, and she sat all the way in the back of the room and she never said a single word. Three weeks passed and I paid absolutely no attention to her, EXCEPT that I noticed she wore the same brown and red dress every single day. One afternoon, our teacher happened to mention how much she herself liked The Beatles, and, in particular, the song “Eleanor Rigby.”

Up shot the hand of the quiet little girl.

I remember that even our teacher was surprised.

“I can sing it for you,” said the girl.

Baffled, the teacher asked: “Sing what?”

I wondered, what is wrong with this kid? I started to feel uncomfortable.

She repeated: “I can sing it. I can sing “Eleanor Rigby” for you.”

I don’t remember how she got permission, or if she just took it upon herself, but up she popped, standing aside her desk, porcelain skin and coke-bottle glasses, and she began to sing:

“Ah …look at all the lonely people …
Ah … look at all the lonely people …
Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door…
Who is it for?”

Do you know how sudden, raw beauty has a way of transcending age or even previous exposure? I am in NO way gifted musically, but the ability to appreciate what’s miraculous is innate. I can remember maybe 10 minutes of fifth grade, and that scene comprises most of it. Listening to her, I immediately understood two things: that her voice was great, angelic, and that an important part of the reason it was great was because she was lonely and afraid. I was deeply and permanently smitten. This quiet little person had sung so bravely and so beautifully, we were all astounded and our teacher actually choked up and began to cry.

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

After, the class sat silently for what seemed like a minute, and as I sat there, I actually felt that something had changed. I knew, perhaps for the very first time in my life, that I would remember a moment, maybe forever.

Leading up to the next class session, no one had to come and fetch me because as fast as I could I ran out to the portables and got there early so I could sit in the seat right next to where the little girl had been. But when the bell rang, she wasn’t there. She had, apparently, moved away from our school just as suddenly as she had arrived. And I never saw her again.

To this day, thinking of that moment makes me sad. But more than that, it makes me yearn for answers to things that no one can answer. Things like where did that little Eleanor Rigby come from? And, in all the years since, did she ever find the place that she belonged?

!!!!!!!!!

Marla Muse: Beautiful.

So many famous people have turned out for this contest. Sean Harvey seems a bit dazzled by it all.

Marla Muse: Who wouldn’t be a bit dazzled?

Sean Harvey wins in a stunning upset!

~~~~~~~

Carolyn Forche is the second seed and she brings this:

WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD is true. I was in his house. His wife carried
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

Meera Nair, the 15th seed, has this to offer:

What wouldn’t one do
To appease a Goddess?

The city is a bitch in heat
A lighted furnace
Waiting to go up in smoke

Bricks have lined up on pavements
Boundaries drawn
And territories captured
The women arrive in hordes
Laying claim to this fragile city

Goddess, I have no offering to make
No pot of grain
No boiling water
No lit fire
But here is a prayer
From within the walls of my agnostic house

Goddess, make it rain
Torrents and torrents of water
Wash out this hysteria on the streets
Cleanse this litter

Goddess, restore sanity to my city
She burns

This poem by Nair, “Yet Another Pongala,” was written a short time before the virus struck, and refers to riots taking place in India stemming from recent Hindu/Muslim strife. Crisis follows crisis, and the mass of modernizing humanity looks on, bewildered. What’s happening on their street? What’s happening somewhere else in the world?  The virus, the latest crisis, is uniting everyone, like almost nothing before, and it has so many layers, some controversial and divisive—the poets are just starting to react.

But here, in March Madness, everything is fine. The riots are pretend riots.  Only the poetry is real.

Carolyn Forche advances.

~~~~~~~~

 

 

FIRST ROUND ACTION CONCLUDES IN THE MODERN BRACKET

Image result for alan seeger

Alan Seeger—yes, he is related to the folk singer Pete Seeger—certainly has a sublime entry:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

World War One was such a horrible meat grinder, it’s a miracle any beautiful poetry on that war was possible, but poets will find a way.  The theme is similar to ‘all quiet on the western front.’  I will die when it’s “quiet.”  I will die when it’s “Spring.”

The Moderns often point to the Great War as the end of “pretty, Victorian poetry;” it’s not that poems like Seeger’s on WW I were not beautiful, were not popular, were not moving—it’s just that the horror of war “outside” the text began to condemn it (pretty poetry) as naive.  The air-tight jar of art-for-art’s sake was broken by an event too vast and grisly for that jar to survive.

The problem is, however, that when you try and ‘fit’ poetry to the gruesome stupidity of life, it’s no longer poetry.  So now, you’ve not only done a stupid thing by having World War One, you’ve gone and ruined poetry, too.

And this is not to say that all poetry should be flowery and Victorian and how dare you introduce more realistic views—no.  The point is, poetry should never be defined by “what are we going to do about World War One?”  In any way, ever. Because—the dyer’s hand. If you write poetry about iconic stupidity, it will be stupid. After you go to the ironic well of ‘I will die when it’s quiet/spring’ one too many times, you may have to start writing ‘his face was blown off’ while trying to be poetic, and that will take too much effort, or make one indulge too much in brutality for its own sake.  And if you wish to address the stupidity of World War One in a truly serious or scientific way, you probably won’t be using poems.

Seeger’s opponent is Richard Eberhart and his poem, “The Groundhog:”

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close his maggots’ might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left; and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained.
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.

It is the scene-shifting of this poem which is so moving. Poems exist in time, if we let them.  There are poems which exist in a picture.  But some poems exist only as they unfold.  Poets often miss this principle: a poem is a continual arriving and leaving, and the rare, poignant ones ride the temporal itself. One could state the theme of decay in a much shorter poem, but a short poem would not get the decay in life and memory as Eberhart here so beautifully unwinds it.

Alan Seeger, brave man!  Fare thee well!

Eberhart advances.

~~~~~~~~

The arena can hardly contain the crowd for this one: T.S. Eliot versus Dylan Thomas!

The sly, slim, astute Eliot, unruffled as a cat on a stuffed chair. The bubbling, passionate, beer-soaked Thomas.

Already a few brawls outside the stadium.

The languorous sounds of “Prufrock” as it reaches its mesmerizing end:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

The crowd is lulled into an ecstatic trance, but Dylan Thomas is about to change all that…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

One of the great drawbacks of homosexuality is that so many great poems are now ruined, because the word “gay” is used in the old sense.

Some scholars believe T.S. Eliot was gay.

Still other scholars think we’re all gay. Let’s just defer to them right now, shall we?

Marla Muse: Tom!  What are you babbling about?

Nothing, Marla, just having fun.  But I think I’ve come down with a cold.

Marla Muse: You might want to take care of that cold. I hear people who are 99 years old and have diabetes and asthma are dying in Italy.

Good God, Marla, now what are you babbling about?

“Parody! Parody!” In the vestibules the Dylan Thomas fans are making a fuss that “Prufrock” is nothing but a school boy parody.

Maybe we should leave, Marla.  It seems to be getting out of control down there.

Marla: Rage, indeed. Perhaps we should leave. Was that a beer bottle which just flew by?

Marla, follow me.

~~~~~~~~

The final First Round Scarriet March Madness Sublime contest in the Modern Bracket is two 20th century poets: W.H. Auden and Edna St. Vincent Millay. 

Marla Muse: Both great poets. And both used rhyme. You know, as time rides farther and farther away from the 20th century, and we look back, it will begin to appear, as we read the poems most memorable, that free verse was no factor in modern poetry at all!

History is funny, isn’t it?

Marla Muse: Not only history, but time!

Is time itself the funny part?  Perhaps it is…

Marla Muse: After many a summer dies the swan.

Tennyson.

Marla Muse: No, that’s mine.  The muses own all of it.

Of course.

Here is the first half of Auden’s energetic march, “As I Walked Out One Evening:”

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
.
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
.
But all the clocks in the city
Begin to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
Tomorrow or today.
.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
.
‘O plunge your hands in water
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A land to the land of the dead.

“And the seven songs go squawking/like geese about the sky.”  I could recite that line forever!

Look at the Auden fans! Doing a “plunge them in up to the wrist” dance!  What a cavorting mob!

Marla Muse: There’s quite a gathering of Edna fans, too. Millay is heavenly.

Here she comes now with one of her best known sonnets.

Her fans are strewing petals everywhere about her!

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
.
.
The Milly fans are singing, over various strumming chords, “no more,” over and over again, hypnotically, in a simple major key, as they wind about, in a great procession, out of the arena towards the river.
.
The Auden followers are bellowing Auden’s ballad in E minor. A few things are being broken.
.
And so ends the First Round play in the Modern Bracket.
.
Lights, lights, everywhere, as night falls, and music echoes behind the trees.

 

 

 

 

MORE ACTION IN THE MARCH MADNESS MODERN BRACKET (AND MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS IS BACK!)

Image result for virginia woolf

Good news, Marla!

Marla Muse: I’ve heard. Mary is back. Her fans are making a ruckus in the tents by the lake leading up to the arena.

The Post-Modern Bracket is next, but we need to get back to the Modern Bracket.

~~~~~~~

Conrad, Remarque, and Thurber have advanced, but we have five more first round contests in this amazing Modern Bracket.

Marla Muse: Virginia Woolf. When I see pictures of her, I think she may have been the most beautiful woman in the world—but what does this mean?  It means nothing.  Depending on who loves it, and from what angle you gaze upon it, and all the changes that happen to a face over the years, there is no most beautiful; there is only most loved.

Marla, I’ve never heard you speak quite like this. What’s gotten into you?

Marla Muse: Shut up.

OK. Well. If we look at this passage from Virginia Woolf, from “A Room Of One’s Own,” I think we’ll find not only a sublime speech, but a strangely anti-feminist one.

Marla Muse (as if in a trance): It’s remarkable.

It is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex.

It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly, as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

If one is a man, still the woman part of the brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous.

No age can ever have been as stridently sex-conscious as our own. The Suffrage campaign was no doubt to blame. It must have roused in men an extraordinary desire for self-assertion; it must have made them lay an emphasis upon their own sex and its characteristics which they would not have troubled to think about had they not been challenged.

The blame for all this rests no more upon one sex than upon the other. All seducers and reformers are responsible. All who have brought about a state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me, when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy age, when the writer used both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare, then, for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so was Keats and Coleridge. Shelley was perhaps sexless. Milton and Ben Johnson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and Tolstoy.

The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn. The writer, once his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its nuptials in darkness. He must not look or question what is being done. Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans float calmly down the river. And I saw again the current which took the boat and the undergraduate and the dead leaves; and the taxi took the man and the woman who came together across the street, and the current swept them away, as I heard far off the roar of London’s traffic, into that tremendous stream.

Stunning.

Edmund Wilson has the unlucky task of going up against Woolf.

A literary critic, Wilson knew F. Scott Fitzgerald at Princeton, proposed marriage to Anais Nin by saying he had much to teach her, which she took as an insult, did not pay federal taxes for years, called Lovecraft and Tolkien hacks, had many marriages, and supposedly many affairs, and quickly turned down LBJ’s invitation to the White House in 1965.

Wilson, to defeat Woolf, will attempt to do so with this:

“Come outside a minute,” I said, when everybody was clapping and cheering. “I want to tell you something.” She went with me in silence—I was satisfied and proud, and I also felt really excited. There would be people in the courtyard, I knew, so I took her to the terrace at the side of the house. I kissed her, holding her tight against me, one arm about her naked shoulders, the other under her soft bare armpit just where the breast begins; and she seemed to me voracious and hot as I had never known her before. I said nothing, for the kiss said all. But we couldn’t go on, so at last i stopped and looked away to distract myself. There above us in the sky where it was always summer hung the dust of the richly-sprinkled stars that gave the illusion out here of being both closer-to and more tinselly than they ever did in the East—the stars of the blissful Pacific that had the look of festive decorations for people to be gay or to make love by, yet with which I had never been able to feel myself in any vital relation as I did with the remote ones at home. I spoke of this and when I looked back at her face, I saw that she was smiling and gazing up with her lips parted in such a way as to show great long bare-gummed teeth that stuck out and yet curved back like tushes and that seemed almost too large to be contained in her mouth. She looked like a dog panting when you take it out for a drive, and for a moment I was sharply repelled; but then, saying, ‘Yes, I see what you mean,’ she closed her lips, and the teeth disappeared. I saw only her wide wet mouth, and I pounded kisses against it with summoned determined passion, tasting her perfume and her flesh. It was precisely those long teeth, I thought, that gave her large mouth its peculiar attractiveness: it might have been unpleasant, but wasn’t.

My head is swimming, Marla. I’ve never been witness to a contest like this. Wilson’s memoir invokes sublimity in a strange, but forceful way. The unapologetic realism.

Yet Woolf’s passage may be the most remarkable thing in Letters a woman has written, ever.

Marla Muse:  Then Virginia wins?

She does.

~~~~~~

F. Scott Fitzgerald—the fifth seed, is famous, died when still young (44) and has a famous entry. The fan turnout is enormous!  The crowd is speaking along to every word. Tattered copies of Gatsby are everywhere.  White silk and cotton. What a scene.

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an æsthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The American sublime.  Does his opponent have a chance?

We doubt it.  It is the tall and gangly Englishman, Stephen Spender, a friend of Auden’s, publisher of an art magazine secretly funded by the CIA, who brings to this match up a poem which sounds like it was self-consciously written to be ‘great’ poem; but then some say he pulled it off!  What do you think, Marla?

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
.
What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.
.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Marla is not sure.

She’s smoothing her hair.

She’s running off somewhere, now…

There are parts of the first stanza where one says to oneself, “oh come on, this is silly,” but then something happens when we get to “essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth,” and there is something so wonderfully fresh, sweet, and lyrical (even though it is still naive) about the last stanza, and by the time we read, “they traveled a short while toward the sun,” the poet has us.

But F. Scott Fitzgerald wins.

 

THE MODERN BRACKET—FIRST ROUND ACTION!!

Image result for joseph conrad

Welcome to more March Madness and the Sublime—our 2020 theme.

This is the Modern Bracket (Classical and Romantic have concluded first round play).

Marla Muse, we have a poet represented in our Post-Modern Bracket, who was so disgusted at the inclusion of Karl Marx (Das Kapital, 1867) in our Romantic Bracket, that she quit Scarriet.

Marla Muse: Is this poetry eating politics, or politics eating poetry?

The committee is talking to her, so perhaps we can bring her back. Her fans, of course, are heartbroken. (Coleridge defeated Marx in first round play)

~~~~~~~

We have much to cover today, so let’s get right to it.  The Modern Bracket has a lot of prose excerpts.

Marla Muse: That means more reading!

Yes, but I think people can skim prose more easily.

Marla Muse: Not if it’s literary prose. I can read verse faster.

Good point, Marla. And we don’t want to encourage people to “skim,” anyway!

The first seed is Joseph Conrad, who turned his sailing experience into fiction. How sublime is this?

The sunshine of heaven fell like a gift of grace on the mud of the earth, on the remembering and mute stones, on greed, selfishness; on the anxious faces of forgetful men. And to the right of the dark group the stained front of the Mint, cleansed by the flood of light, stood out for a moment dazzling and white like a marble palace in a fairy tale. The crew of the Narcissus drifted out of sight.***

I never saw them again.***

Then on the waters of the forlorn stream drifts a ship—a shadowy ship manned by a crew of Shades. They pass and make a sign, in a shadowy hail. Haven’t we, together and upon the immortal sea, wrung out a meaning from our sinful lives? Good-bye, brothers! You were a good crowd. As good a crowd as ever fisted with wild cries the beating canvas of a heavy foresail; or tossing aloft, invisible in the night, gave back yell for yell to a westerly gale.

This is the boyish fiction, the adventurous fiction, the manly fiction, the fiction fiction, most of us grew up with. You want fiction, lad? Translated Homer? No. Take a look at this! Joseph Conrad!

Sublime as hell.

And his opponent?  None other than the 16th seed in the Modern Bracket, Philip Roth, from Goodbye, Columbus:

We had to take about two too many steps to keep the approach from being awkward, but we pursued the impulse and kissed. I felt her hand on the back of my neck and so I tugged her towards me, too violently perhaps, and slid my own hands across the side of her body and around to her back. I felt the wet spots on her shoulder blades, and beneath them, I’m sure of it, a faint fluttering, as though something stirred so deep in her breasts, so far back, it could make itself felt through her shirt. It was like the fluttering of wings, tiny wings no bigger than her breasts. The smallness of the wings did not bother me—it would not take an eagle to carry me up those lousy 180 feet that make summer nights so much cooler in Short Hills than they are in Newark.

The essence of the “modern sublime:” the pitiable small wings, the self-conscious awareness that “sublime” by the author could never be more sublime than “Newark,” the half-sad feeling that love could never be more than a semi-lyrical getting laid.

Joseph Conrad, the seaman, wins!

~~~~~~

.

The second seed in the Modern Bracket is Erich Remarque:

“He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.”

Eerie calm inside horrible death, officially, and personally. Perhaps the greatest war passage of them all. The cry of the sublime in the modern vision.

Remarque does battle with an excerpt from “The Bridge” by Hart Crane:

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
.
And Thee, across the harbor, silver paced
As though the sun took step of thee yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!
.
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud flown derricks turn …
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
.
And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon … Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.
.
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,
.
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path—condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
.
.
Hart Crane is engulfing modernism, the sublime by addition and addition and addition: “I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights with multitudes bent toward some flashing scene…out of some subway scuttle…obscure as that heaven…O harp and altar, of the fury fused…threshold of the prophet’s pledge…the lover’s cry…the traffic lights that skim…night lifted in thine arms…”
.
Here is madness in many blinking lights, the sublime of heaving ephemera, desperately recorded.
.
But we can’t shake that scene of Remarque’s.
.
The German wins.
.
~~~~~~~~
.
D.H. Lawrence is the third seed.  The Englishman eloped with Frieda, a German aristocrat. When Lawrence died of T.B. in France, Frieda brought his remains (after exhuming and cremating him) to their ranch in New Mexico, where she died a quarter century later, in 1956.  She bequeathed the ranch to the University of New Mexico, where it is partially overseen by the English Department. Lawrence is better known as a fiction writer, but we prefer his poetry:
.
I
Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.
.
The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
.
And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one’s own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self.
.
II
.
Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
O build your ship of death, for you will need it.
.
The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.
.
And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
Ah! can’t you smell it?
.
And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
that blows upon it through the orifices.
.
.
James Thurber who goes against Lawrence, was a cartoonist and wit.  His mother was a practical joker, who once pretended to be lame in order to surprise a revival meeting. Thurber lost his eye when he was seven; he and his brother were playing William Tell, with real arrows.  His entry is from his memoir:

Like the great Gammeyer of Tarkington’s Gentle Julia, the poodle I knew seemed sometimes about to bridge the mysterious and conceivably narrow gap that separates instinct from reason. She could take part in your gaiety and your sorrow; she trembled to your uncertainties and lifted her head at your assurances. There were times when she seemed to come close to a pitying comprehension of the whole troubled scene and what lies ticking behind it. If poodles, who walk so easily upon their hind legs, ever do learn the little tricks of speech and reason, I should not be surprised if they made a better job of it than Man, who would seem to be slowly slipping back to all fours, in spite of Van Wyck Brooks and Lewis Mumford and Robert Frost.

The poodle kept her sight, her hearing, and her figure up to her quiet and dignified end. She knew that the Hand was upon her and she accepted it with a grave and unapprehensive resignation. This, her dark intelligent eyes seemed to be trying to tell me, is simply the closing of full circle, this is the flower that grows out of Beginning; this—not to make it too hard for you, friend—is as natural as eating the raspberries and raising the puppies and riding into the rain.

That “riding into the rain” is heart-breaking.

Marla Muse has fainted, again.

Thurber, the wit from Ohio, wins.

~~~~~~

Image result for James Thurber

 

ROMANTIC BRACKET PLAY IN THE SUBLIME MADNESS TOURNEY!

Image result for Tennyson

The fan turnout has been unbelievable for this year’s Madness tournament. Everyone is flying to Madness Island for these games.  And Marla Muse has been quite the hostess.

Marla Muse: I love the Romantic poets!

In Round One play, first seed artist/poet William Blake (the Tyger), who died in the first quarter of the 19th century, takes on 16th seeded author and wit Oscar Wilde, who died at the 19th century’s close.

Blake’s Tyger should terrify any opponent; Blake’s music is like a hammer, like Beethoven, or like heavy metal—what simplicity, what power: “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright in the forest of the night.” One has no problem imagining Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin singing this.

Wilde’s essay “The Critic As Artist” is like the music of Ravel:

We are sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now upon Olympus, and its steep, scraped sides are bleak and barren, but once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our historical sense is at fault. Every century that produces poetry is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort. There is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self-consciousness and the critical spirit are one.

Interesting contest, because Wilde insists on the “self-consciousness” of the “critic/artist” in the face of Blake, perhaps the most impetuous, and least self-conscious, artist who ever lived.

Blake romps, to the blood-curdling yells of his fans, and advances to Round Two.  So long, Oscar!  You are right.  The artist needs the self-consciousness of the critic. The bullied child is full of knowledge.

~~~~~~~~

Goethe’s poetic drama, Faust v. Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” a poem as iconic as Blake’s Tyger.

We kept the devil away for two millennia, thanks to the Christian religion—whether the “devil” really exists, or not.  Life is merely the play of our imagination—so say the non-religious; so why then, do they object to Christianity so much?  If Christianity is real, or it’s poetry, it’s still pretty good poetry.  In this passage from Goethe, Faust, the professor, woos a Christian peasant:

Gretchen: You don’t believe in God?

Faust: Do not misunderstand me, my love, my queen!
Who can name him?
Admit on the spot:
I believe in him?
And who can dare
To perceive and declare:
I believe in him not?
The All-Embracing One,
The All-Upholding One,
Does he not embrace, uphold,
You, me, Himself?
Does not the Heaven vault itself above us?
Is not the earth established fast below?
And with their friendly glances do not
Eternal stars rise over us?
Do not my eyes look into yours,
And all things thrust
Into your head, into your heart,
And weave in everlasting mystery
Invisibly, visibly, around you?
Fill your heart with this, great as it is,
And when this feeling grants you perfect bliss,
Then call it what you will—
Happiness! Heart! Love! God!
I have no name for it!
Feeling is all;
Name is mere sound and reek
Clouding Heaven’s light.

Gretchen: That sounds quite good and right;
And much as the priest might speak,
Only not word for word.

Faust: It is what all hearts have heard
In all the places heavenly day can reach,
Each in his own speech;
Why not I in mine?

Gretchen: I could almost accept it, you make it sound so fine,
Still there is something in it that shouldn’t be;
For you have no Christianity.

Faust: Dear child!

Gretchen: It has long been a grief to me
To see you in such company.

Faust: You mean?

Gretchen: The man who goes about with you.
I hate him in my soul, through and through.
And nothing has given my heart
In my whole life so keen a smart
As that man’s face, so dire, so grim.

Faust: Beloved child, don’t be afraid of him!

“Feeling is all,” says professor Faust, wooing by expanding Christian love to include sex. A great speech, Gretchen acknowledges, though not quite true to the words of my religion. This “not quite” is finally the only “not quite” there is.  Faust says religion is whatever good thing our hearts hear, but Gretchen’s Christian heart won’t be melted by that, and then she mentions Mephistopheles, and again, without learning, she instinctively understands, in the most innocent simplicity, that something is not right. First she rejects the idea of “what Faust’s individual heart thinks” and then she rejects “how the devil’s individual face looks.” For Gretchen, a standard judges the individual. Faust comes from the opposite direction—the individual is supreme. Gretchen eventually is seduced—because she is an individual.

Everyone knows Emily Dickinson’s great poem. But here it is no match for the mesmerizing Faust!

Goethe advances!

~~~~~~~

Coleridge’s Kubla Khan versus Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.  Third seed, fourteenth seed.

Why do we include Marx in a sublime contest with poets?

Because this idea shook the world:

“There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities.”

There. It is that simple.  With one blow, Marx broke everything in two. A  ghost inhabited every object.

Trade, or capitalism, existed long before Marx—the word “commodity” came into use in English in the 15th century.

A country has excess grain and trades it for coffee, and now it has grain and coffee, two things instead of one.

Commodity meant “convenience” or “advantage,” and it was a good thing as long as trade produced a greater variety for everyone.

But as trade became more sophisticated, commodity pricing—trade for the sake of trade—replaced things themselves.

Commodities were still things, up until Marx.  As trade became weaponized, a commodity was now more valuable and sacred than a thing.

And this happened just when mass wealth began to upset the old hierarchical order.  A new hierarchy of hoarded wealth emerged, and Marx was the bitter result.

We say “bitter result,” because with bad faith trading, things were no longer what they were; everything was ephemeral and relative, and nothing was stable.

The sublime slid into the fast and the commonplace in a manner that was nearly sublime.  Marx is nearly sublime, but not finally sublime. He fell into what he criticized.

Kubla Khan by Coleridge is sublime.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Coleridge advances.

~~~~~

Shelley (the Cloud) v. Hawthorne (the Scarlet Letter)

The passage from Nathaniel Hawthorne is lovely and sublime:

She inherited her mother’s gift for devising drapery and costume. As the last touch to her mermaid’s garb, Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother’s. A letter,—the letter A,—but freshly green, instead of scarlet! The child bent her chin upon her breast, and contemplated this device with strange interest; even as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make out its hidden import.

Now here is the excerpt from Shelley’s “The Cloud:”

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

And since in Shelley’s divine poetry, he captures the roving and playful essence of Hawthorne’s Pearl, Shelley advances.

~~~~~~~

John Keats v. R.H. Horne

The Englishman Richard Henry Horne (1802-1884) fought for Mexican independence in the 1820s, was a literary friend of Elizabeth Barrett (before she became Browning) and Charles Dickens in the 1840s, called himself the “father of the Australian wine industry,” as he spent most of the 1850s in Australia, and spent the last 25 years of his life in London. He published plays, and an epic poem, “Orion,” which Edgar Poe praised in 1844. From “Orion:”

There, underneath the boughs, mark where the gleam
Of sunrise through the roofing’s chasm is thrown
Upon a grassy plot below, whereon
The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream,
Swift rolling toward the cataract, and drinks,
While ever and anon the nightingale,
Not waiting for the evening, swells his hymn—
His one sustained and heaven aspiring tone—
And when the sun hath vanished utterly,
Arm over arm the cedars spread their shade,
With arching wrist and long extended hands,
And grave-ward fingers lengthening in the moon,
Above that shadowy stag whose antlers still
Hung o’er the stream.

The painting here is quite admirable, and there is a certain Miltonic force to Horne’s long poem—all but forgotten today.

Keats, who lived less than a third of Horne’s long life, rose to remarkable fame, and Horne was one of the few, early on, to praise Keats.

From Hyperion:

Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,
Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,
Still as the silence round about his lair;
Forest on forest hung about his head
Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
Not so much life as on a summer’s day
Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.

How interesting it would be, if Horne would win…

Holy God!  He does!  R.H. Horne advances!

~~~~~~~

Marla Muse: Blake, Goethe, Coleridge, and Shelley—not much surprise that these advance. And R.H. Horne in an upset!

How many outside this tournament even know who Horne is, Marla?

Marla Muse: I see quite a few fans studying their programs with puzzled looks!

Is it not strange that Richard Horne wrote thousands of letters to Elizabeth Barrett, before Robert ran away with her? And Poe, who loved “Orion,” also corresponded with Elizabeth, when she was still Barrett, and that Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to her?

Marla Muse: O that is sweet! And speaking of which, look who is coming this way!

Elizabeth Barrett versus Pushkin!!

Both of these entries are stunning!

First Elizabeth Barrett, from her epic poem, The Drama of Exile:

On a mountain peak
Half sheathed in primal woods and glittering
In spasms of awful sunshine, at that hour
A lion crouched,—part raised upon his paws,
With his calm massive face turned full on thine,
And his mane listening. When the ended curse
Left silence in the world, right suddenly
He sprang up rampant, and stood straight and stiff,
As if the new reality of death
Were dashed against his eyes,—and roared so fierce,
(Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear)—
And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
To distant silence,—that the forest beasts,
One after one, did mutter a response
In savage and in sorrowful complaint
Which trailed along the gorges.

I don’t think many of our March Madness fans are acquainted with this side of Elizabeth Barrett!

“Which trailed along the gorges.” What a vast, dramatic scene she paints!

This is masterful.

And a lyric poem from Pushkin, who is so adept at breaking one’s heart:

If I walk the noisy streets,
or enter a many thronged church,
or sit among the wild young generation,
I give way to my thoughts.

I say to myself: the years are fleeting,
and however many there seem to be,
we must all go under the eternal vault,
and someone’s hour is already at hand.

When I look at a solitary oak
I think: the patriarch of the woods.
It will outlive my forgotten age
as it outlived that of my grandfathers’.

If I caress a young child,
immediately I think: Farewell!
I will yield my place to you,
for I must fade while your flower blooms.

Each day, every hour
I habitually follow in my thoughts,
trying to guess from their number
the year which brings my death.

And where will fate send death to me?
In battle, in my travels, or on the seas?
Or will the neighbouring valley
receive my chilled ashes?

And although to the senseless body
it is indifferent wherever it rots,
yet close to my beloved countryside
I still would prefer to rest.

And let it be, beside the grave’s vault
Young life forever will be playing,
and impartial, indifferent nature
Spreads, forever staying.

Which is more sublime?

Pushkin, who puts his whole, melancholy life into one beautiful lyric poem?

Or Barrett, who displays artistic unity in one sublime passage?

Elizabeth Barrett wins!

~~~~~~

And look who we have now!

Marla Muse: I don’t think I can contain my excitement!

Byron versus Poe!!

This is one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had for March Madness. Poe against Byron.  The fans are merry, not melancholy, as the excitement lifts up even the most melancholy and literary of spirits.

Sometimes we swear the sublime is simply that which is terribly sad.

Is there anything sadder than this excerpt from Byron’s poem, “Darkness?”

The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

This is so beautiful: “as they dropp’d they slept on the abyss without a surge.”  Listen to this, children!  This is poetry.  No mere fop, Byron.

Poe counters with an ‘end of the world’ tale of his own; not everything Poe wrote became famous. The entry is a passage from Poe’s neglected “Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (two spirits named after Cleopatra’s attendants) which imagines a comet approaching earth; people are terrified, then realize the comet is merely made of gas, and can do no harm.  Halley’s comet (1835) would have been seen by Poe a few years prior to writing this tale, and, in 1832, there actually was a “comet panic” in which scientists miscalculated, and said a comet was going to hit the earth.  Poe’s stories tend to be based on facts, or at least actual scary events.

The prevalence of oxygen in the comet has a pleasurable and life-giving effect at first, as it moves into our atmosphere.  Then Poe brings the hammer down:

It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one measures of oxygen, and seventy-nine of nitrogen, in every one hundred of the atmosphere. Oxygen, which was the principle of combustion, and the vehicle of heat, was absolutely necessary to the support of animal life, and was the most powerful and energetic agent in nature. Nitrogen, on the contrary, was incapable of supporting either animal life or flame. An unnatural excess of oxygen would result, it had been ascertained, in just such an elevation of the animal spirits as we had latterly experienced. It was the pursuit, the extension of the idea, which had engendered awe. What would be the result of a total extraction of the nitrogen? A combustion irresistible, all-devouring, omni-prevalent, immediate; — the entire fulfillment, in all their minute and terrible details, of the fiery and horror-inspiring denunciations of the prophecies of the Holy Book.

Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of mankind? That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us with hope, was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its impalpable gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation of Fate. Meantime a day again passed — bearing away with it the last shadow of Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms rigidly outstretched towards the threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud. But the nucleus of the destroyer was now upon us; — even here in Aidenn, I shudder while I speak. Let me be brief — brief as the ruin that overwhelmed. For a moment there was a wild lurid light alone, visiting and penetrating all things. Then — let us bow down, Charmion, before the excessive majesty of the great God! — then, there came a shouting and pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself of Him; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed, burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all-fervid heat even the angels in the high Heaven of pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.

Which deserves to win?  The sublime poetry of Byron? Or the hypnotizing prose of Poe?

The March Madness committee fears a riot—whoever wins, both sides loyal and passionate, as one might expect of those souls who gather beneath the banner, Byron, or the banner, Poe.

But the crowd is calmer than expected. Deadly quiet, even.

And with a whisper comes the result: “The winner is the poet, Lord Byron!”

~~~~~~~

And the final First Round contest in the Romantic Bracket—Cornelius Matthews versus Lord Tennyson!!

Everyone knows this by Tennyson. His sublime poem, The Splendor Falls, quoted in its entirety:

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
.
O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowng!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
.
O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

This may be the most iconic poem ever.

Marla Muse: It makes me want to faint!

Oh, Marla, people love to catch you when you fall!

Marla Muse: I know! (laughter)

Cornelius Matthews wrote a 34 stanza poem called “Wakondah,” from which has been selected one beautiful line, selected once, for praise, by Poe, in a review in which he otherwise mocked the work.

And then we find in a letter from Poe to Matthews—where Poe asks Matthews for R.H. Horne’s address—that Poe, in his review of “Wakondah,” was only kidding, and has since become terribly ashamed, and sorry.

Ah, Letters!

The line is:

Green dells that into silence stretch away

Magnificent!

It will be amazing to see if a single line of sublimity can beat Tennyson.

But first we must attend to Marla Muse.

She has fainted.

MORE ACTION IN THE CLASSICAL BRACKET: GRAY VERSUS PLATO!

 

Image result for churchyard elegy in painting

Sixty-four contestants (the large number in any March Madness single elimination tournament) can be quite overwhelming.

As quickly as we can, let’s play the tournament and decrease the store.

We’ve looked at all the Sublime March Madness teams—their names and what they bring to the table.

So we are all judged, whether we are a person with no special abilities, or a sports team with dozens of athletes and assistant coaches and billion dollar owners and equipment managers.

In the first game of the tournament, in the Classical bracket, Homer prevailed against Edmund Burke, and the template was established: emotional poetry v. criticism skeptical of the emotions.  Emotion, or excitement, won. Homer has advanced to the second round.

In the second contest in the Classical bracket, we have Plato himself, representing the “criticism skeptical of emotions” side of the template, with his famous advice to climb from particular beauty to beauty itself, facing off against the humble and melancholy poet, born in the early 18th century, an early Romantic poet, transitioning from the Augustan, Thomas Gray.

Gray is one more example that Romanticism began much earlier than Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, and Shelley—for Romanticism, if the secret be told, is an expression of Plato, if we are not mistaken. Shakespeare’s plays are each like Platonic dialogues, a lesson for sobering us up, for fighting vanity and illusion. Shakespeare does not favor poetry and the emotions, though his plays are full of songs and feelings—Keats loved Shakespeare, the early Romantic.

Romanticism, the melancholy dream, was influenced by Plato through Milton’s “Il Penseroso.” —“Hence vain deluding joys.”

But Milton’s melancholy poem had a mirthful companion piece, “L’Allegro.”

Plato asked that we first fix on earthly beauty before we ascend towards the beauty of thought and morality, and then beauty itself.

The poets who are devotees of Plato—whether they know it, or not—can be said to be all the sweet and melancholy Romantic poets—and here’s why.

To move from an appreciation of someone who is beautiful to an appreciation of all beauty involves the following:

1. The kind of mind which can entertain different types of beauty as a way of becoming adept and flexible in moving upwards on the Platonic Ladder to True Beauty—demonstrated by the poet who can succeed in writing similar poems which partake of melancholy, on one hand, and mirth, on the other.  To appreciate equal opposites helps one to transcend.

2. Melancholy, because it is sad to say goodbye to the one we love as we venture upwards towards Love itself.

This is why the Romantic poets, who serve Plato, tend to be melancholic.  Byron was both mirthful and sad—which is fine, too.

This excerpt from Gray’s meditative “Elegy,” sounds like Keats (50 years before Keats was born):

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.

This is poetry that wishes to remain amid the beauty of the earth just a little longer, before it begins the bright journey Plato requires.

Gray’ sample is so beautiful it is almost as if the journey were done.

Gray wins!

A stunning upset!

Plato, the Greek philosopher, like a ghost, vanishes.

 

HOMER VERSUS BURKE IN CLASSICAL BRACKET!

Welcome to the first game in the 2020 March Madness—the Sublime!

First seed Homer versus 16th seed Edmund Burke in the Classical Bracket!

Marla Muse, thanks for joining us!

“Glad to be here, Tom! Another March Madness!”

What a crowd!

“Such noise! I love it!”

Why, Marla?

“I’m a Homeric muse. You know that!”

Because you often appear naked, I know.

“I love excitement!”

You do. Well let’s get right to the commentary.

Homer is the poet of war and forced migration.

He is not a known author. We don’t know who he was, or whether there was more than one Homer.  Western literature only goes back so far in time and Homer is pretty much the limit, which is really not that long ago.

Homer is a mixture of third person narrative and dialogue. A good story teller tells us what people say, and also paints and describes the scene.

Plato, the great philosophical objection to the poetry of Homer, sums up all literature, and perhaps the whole of the human mind. After Homer/Plato, there’s nothing new. It just repeats, endlessly.

Plato uses dialogue alone; what Socrates says within the dialogue in response to others is the philosophy.

If dialogue is “drama,” then for pure drama, Plato, the philosopher, not Homer, the poet, is your man.

In philosophy, it matters what you say; in poetry, it really doesn’t.

Plato (anti-tears) versus Homer (tears). !!!!

All great poetry is a response to crisis. If war and plague and dislocation are stupid, than unfortunately poetry, which reacts to war and plague and dislocation, is stupid. To skillfully depict war as a story, or as poetry, the story/poetry becomes embroiled in the stupidity itself. This is the curse of the dyer’s hand.

The philosophy of Plato emerges in all its stunning wisdom and magnificence as a reaction, not to war itself, but to the stupidity of war, and also to the stupidity of poetry, because the stupidity of war and poetry are the same: the emotional, which is untrustworthy, excites men to war and makes for a great story. Neither one, according to Socrates, is to be trusted.

In the Homer passage, in which one warrior (a half god) speaks to another (a mortal,) a subject dear to Socrates is expressed: bravery and indifference in the face of danger and death. (Socrates is not anti-war; he wants a brave soldier class to protect the Republic; he’s against poetry bringing fear and weakness to the soldier. Socrates doesn’t want the Republic to be a stupid, emotional, aggressive, war-like state; he wants peace through strength.)

Homer’s poetry works against Socrates, even though the Homeric speaker is “brave;” the poetry must be condemned—because for the poetry to be vivid, cowardice must be depicted, too. The “brave speech” is directed at the cowardly (“why are you afraid?”) and since good poetry paints all aspects of a situation, the poison (cowardice) enters the listener; in poetry, vices and virtues both have a voice, and so the very thoroughess of the poetry condemns it, as strange as that may seem. Once you let the emotions in the door, it’s too late. And foolish wars come about from emotions—and poetry is mixed up with emotions, the “better” it is. As much as Plato appreciates drama (his own philosohy is drama!) he must forbid the excitable depictions of the pyrotechnic, entrancing Homer.

Homer’s opponent in this first round Sublime Madness match-up is not Plato, but Burke, a conservative thinker who famously cautioned against the excesses of the (very excitable) French revolution.

Burke merely elaborates Plato’s injunction against Homer. Without the dialogue. And therefore it’s more difficult to understand Burke, though he brilliantly puts his finger on why belief is preferred to incredulity; why people are naive rather than wise: Resemblances entrance us, while differences leave us cold. The absence of agreement is taxing and wearying, and finally nothing, or even estranging, to the non-analytical, childish mind. “In making distinctions we offer no food to the imagination,” says Burke. Poetry itself feeds credulity. Poetry makes us stupid. Burke agrees with Plato.

Here is Burke’s profound—even sublime—insight:

“The mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than in searching for differences; because by making resemblance we produce new images, we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature. A piece of news is told me in the morning; this, merely as a piece of news, as a fact added to my stock, gives me some pleasure. In the evening I find there was nothing in it. What do I gain by this, but the dissatisfaction to find that I had been imposed upon? Hence it is, that men are much more naturally inclined to belief than to incredulity. And it is upon this principle, that the most ignorant and barbarous nations have frequently excelled in similitudes, comparisons, metaphors, and allegories, who have been weak and backward in distinguishing and sorting their ideas. And it is for a reason of this kind that Homer and the oriental writers, though very fond of similitudes, and though they often strike out such as are truly admirable, they seldom take care to have them exact; that is, they are taken with the general resemblance, they paint it strongly, and they take no notice of the difference which may be found between the things compared.”

—Edmund Burke

To some, the Burke may be boring compared to the Homer:

“Friend! You will die—but why moan about it so?
Remember Patroclus? He was better than you.
Look! I’m handsome and stronger—
A marvelous father, my mother a deathless goddess—
But thanks to fate, I, too, will be brought low.
At midnight, maybe at noon, a mortal will kill me, too—
From a spear, by chance thrown, or a singing arrow.”

—Homer

Marla, the noise in the stadium is deafening! It really sounds like war!

I expected Burke to cooly prevail, but now I’m not so sure…

“The Homeric fans are beating loud drums. I can hardly hear myself think!”

Oh my God!

Homer wins!

“SUBLIME” MADNESS CONTINUES—THE MODERN BRACKET

Image result for turner painting

HERE’S THE MODERN LINEUP

We’ve already seen the magnificent Classical and the Romantic Brackets, but some say this is the most profound sixteen they’ve ever seen!

Despite the corona virus emergency, Scarriet Sublime March Madness will continue as planned, with full audiences in the stands!

Check these out!

Can writing get more sublime than this?

But let’s say a few words before these masterpieces (excerpts, mostly) are perused, and bets are placed.

It seems we need to recognize two types of literary “sublime.”

The first is when profound ideas enforce themselves into our intellect, so that we began to think of the world in a new way.

The second is purely beautiful, when our brains fall asleep, and we experience the sublime with either our emotions, or with the silent, inarticulate parts of our souls.

We might assume only when the sublime is both types of the sublime at once, then, and only then, can we be absolutely blown away.  But if the intellect is ambushed, or the emotions are vanquished, either type of the sublime conquers us absolutely nonetheless.

The modern bracket is less intellectual than the classical and the romantic brackets.  By the year 1900, all the thinking was done, and philosophy gave way to pure awe, and pure feeling.  This is what the fans are buzzing about, as they gather now, in the twilight, outside the temples and the stadiums, as a sea breeze hits the land, blowing in from the underside of the dying sun, throwing its light into the waves.

1) Joseph Conrad (children of the sea)

The sunshine of heaven fell like a gift of grace on the mud of the earth, on the remembering and mute stones, on greed, selfishness; on the anxious faces of forgetful men. And to the right of the dark group the stained front of the Mint, cleansed by the flood of light, stood out for a moment dazzling and white like a marble palace in a fairy tale. The crew of the Narcissus drifted out of sight.

I never saw them again. The sea took some, the steamers took others, the graveyards of the earth will account for the rest. Singleton has no doubt taken with him the long record of his faithful work into the peaceful depths of an hospitable sea. And Donkin, who never did a decent day’s work in his life, no doubt earns his living by discoursing with filthy eloquence upon the right of labour to live. So be it! Let the earth and the sea each have its own.

A gone shipmate, like any other man, is gone for ever; and I never met one of them again. But at times the spring-flood of memory sets with force up the dark River of the Nine Bends. Then on the waters of the forlorn stream drifts a ship—a shadowy ship manned by a crew of Shades. They pass and make a sign, in a shadowy hail. Haven’t we, together and upon the immortal sea, wrung out a meaning from our sinful lives? Good-bye, brothers! You were a good crowd. As good a crowd as ever fisted with wild cries the beating canvas of a heavy foresail; or tossing aloft, invisible in the night, gave back yell for yell to a westerly gale.

2) Erich Remarque (all quiet on the western front)

He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

3) D.H. Lawrence (ship of death)

I
Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.
.
The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.
.
And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one’s own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self.
.
II
.
Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
O build your ship of death, for you will need it.
.
The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.
.
And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
Ah! can’t you smell it?
.
And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
that blows upon it through the orifices.
.
IX
.
And yet out of eternity a thread
separates itself on the blackness,
a horizontal thread
that fumes a little with pallor upon the dark.
.
Is it illusion? or does the pallor fume
A little higher?
Ah wait, wait, for there’s the dawn,
the cruel dawn of coming back to life
out of oblivion.
.
Wait, wait, the little ship
drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey
of a flood-dawn.
.
Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.
.
A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.
.
X
.
The flood subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell
emerges strange and lovely.
And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
on the pink flood,
and the frail soul steps out, into the house again
filling the heart with peace.
.
Swings the heart renewed with peace
even of oblivion.
.
Oh build your ship of death, oh build it!
for you will need it.
For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.
.
4) Virginia Woolf (a room of one’s own)

It is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex.

It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly, as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

If one is a man, still the woman part of the brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous.

No age can ever have been as stridently sex-conscious as our own. The Suffrage campaign was no doubt to blame. It must have roused in men an extraordinary desire for self-assertion; it must have made them lay an emphasis upon their own sex and its characteristics which they would not have troubled to think about had they not been challenged.

The blame for all this rests no more upon one sex than upon the other. All seducers and reformers are responsible. All who have brought about a state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me, when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy age, when the writer used both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare, then, for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so was Keats and Coleridge. Shelley was perhaps sexless. Milton and Ben Johnson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and Tolstoy.

The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn. The writer, once his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its nuptials in darkness. He must not look or question what is being done. Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans float calmly down the river. And I saw again the current which took the boat and the undergraduate and the dead leaves; and the taxi took the man and the woman who came together across the street, and the current swept them away, as I heard far off the roar of London’s traffic, into that tremendous stream.

5) F. Scott Fitzgerald (great gatsby)

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an æsthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

 

6) Alan Seeger (i have a rendezvous with death)

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

 

7) T.S. Eliot (love song of j. alfred prufrock)

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
.
Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
.
8) W.H. Auden (as i walked out one evening)
.
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
.
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
.
But all the clocks in the city
Begin to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
Tomorrow or today.
.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
.
‘O plunge your hands in water
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A land to the land of the dead.
.
9) Edna St Vincent Millay (what lips my lips have kissed)
.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
.
10) Dylan Thomas (do not go gentle)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

11) Richard Eberhart (the groundhog)

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close his maggots’ might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left; and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained.
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.
.
12) Stephen Spender (the truly great)
.
I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
.
What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.
.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.
.
13) Edmund Wilson (memoirs of hecate country)
.
“Come outside a minute,” I said, when everybody was clapping and cheering. “I want to tell you something.” She went with me in silence—I was satisfied and proud, and I also felt really excited. There would be people in the courtyard, I knew, so I took her to the terrace at the side of the house. I kissed her, holding her tight against me, one arm about her naked shoulders, the other under her soft bare armpit just where the breast begins; and she seemed to me voracious and hot as I had never known her before. I said nothing, for the kiss said all.  But we couldn’t go on, so at last i stopped and looked away to distract myself. There above us in the sky where it was always summer hung the dust of the richly-sprinkled stars that gave the illusion out here of being both closer-to and more tinselly than they ever did in the East—the stars of the blissful Pacific that had the look of festive decorations for people to be gay or to make love by, yet with which I had never been able to feel myself in any vital relation as I did with the remote ones at home. I spoke of this and when I looked back at her face, I saw that she was smiling and gazing up with her lips parted in such a way as to show great long bare-gummed teeth that stuck out and yet curved back like tushes and that seemed almost too large to be contained in her mouth. She looked like a dog panting when you take it out for a drive, and for a moment I was sharply repelled; but then, saying, ‘Yes, I see what you mean,’ she closed her lips, and the teeth disappeared. I saw only her wide wet mouth, and I pounded kisses against it with summoned determined passion, tasting her perfume and her flesh. It was precisely those long teeth, I thought, that gave her large mouth its peculiar attractiveness: it might have been unpleasant, but wasn’t.
.
14) James Thurber (memorial)

Like the great Gammeyer of Tarkington’s Gentle Julia, the poodle I knew seemed sometimes about to bridge the mysterious and conceivably narrow gap that separates instinct from reason. She could take part in your gaiety and your sorrow; she trembled to your uncertainties and lifted her head at your assurances. There were times when she seemed to come close to a pitying comprehension of the whole troubled scene and what lies ticking behind it. If poodles, who walk so easily upon their hind legs, ever do learn the little tricks of speech and reason, I should not be surprised if they made a better job of it than Man, who would seem to be slowly slipping back to all fours, in spite of Van Wyck Brooks and Lewis Mumford and Robert Frost.

The poodle kept her sight, her hearing, and her figure up to her quiet and dignified end. She knew that the Hand was upon her and she accepted it with a grave and unapprehensive resignation. This, her dark intelligent eyes seemed to be trying to tell me, is simply the closing of full circle, this is the flower that grows out of Beginning; this—not to make it too hard for you, friend—is as natural as eating the raspberries and raising the puppies and riding into the rain.

15) Hart Crane (the bridge)

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
.
And Thee, across the harbor, silver paced
As though the sun took step of thee yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!
.
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud flown derricks turn …
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
.
And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon … Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.
.
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,
.
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path—condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

16) Philip Roth (goodbye, columbus)

We had to take about two too many steps to keep the approach from being awkward, but we pursued the impulse and kissed. I felt her hand on the back of my neck and so I tugged her towards me, too violently perhaps, and slid my own hands across the side of her body and around to her back. I felt the wet spots on her shoulder blades, and beneath them, I’m sure of it, a faint fluttering, as though something stirred so deep in her breasts, so far back, it could make itself felt through her shirt. It was like the fluttering of wings, tiny wings no bigger than her breasts. The smallness of the wings did not bother me—it would not take an eagle to carry me up those lousy 180 feet that make summer nights so much cooler in Short Hills than they are in Newark.

 

 

 

THE 2020 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES

Image result for Romantic Painting of War

In case you missed it, here’s the Classical lineup:

Homer
Plato
Aristotle
Sophocles
Ovid
Horace
Virgil
Dante
Petrarch
da Vinci
Shakespeare
Donne
Milton

G.E. Lessing
Thomas Gray
Edmund Burke

Imagine the colossal stadium for this event! The ringing of metal, the roaring of engines, the strenuous efforts of athletes down through the ages—how does it compare to this? The sublime utterances of the most sublime writers in recorded history?  Striving to be the most sublime? Is this not sublime in itself—to contemplate this battle of the sublime?

These figures of world history do not ask for mere responses.  This is not the attention-getting trash of the merely avant-garde.   These ideas and feelings tower over you and demand you contemplate them, or die.  The sublime obliterates the self, and leaves in its wake a new self, made of nobler things.  This is not what you may know, but what you must know.

Welcome to the March Madness Sublime Tournament!

The banners are golden and the gods are here to watch.

There has never been a red carpet like this.

Homer, ravishment. Plato, ultimate beauty. Aristotle, art. Sophocles, fate. Ovid, wit. Horace, criticism. Virgil, drama. Dante, morals. Petrarch, faith. da Vinci, seeing, Shakespeare, enchantment. Donne, verse. Milton, poetry. Lessing, aesthetics, Gray, elegy. Burke, political psychology.

To predict who wins the Classical bracket, the experts suggest we ask “Considering what these titans represent, what does the world need most—what can we least do without?”  da Vinci would say, ” We need to see!  We need to know how to look!”  Burke would caution, “if citizens are not taught how to think, and get along with each other, we are doomed.”  And so forth.

 

And now, here is the second bracket the March Madness Committee has selected for the Sublime 2020 March Madness:

 

ROMANTIC

1) Blake (the tyger)

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
.
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
.
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
.
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
.
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

2) Goethe (faust)

Gretchen: You don’t believe in God?

Faust: Do not misunderstand me, my love, my queen!
Who can name him?
Admit on the spot:
I believe in him?
And who can dare
To perceive and declare:
I believe in him not?
The All-Embracing One,
The All-Upholding One,
Does he not embrace, uphold,
You, me, Himself?
Does not the Heaven vault itself above us?
Is not the earth established fast below?
And with their friendly glances do not
Eternal stars rise over us?
Do not my eyes look into yours,
And all things thrust
Into your head, into your heart,
And weave in everlasting mystery
Invisibly, visibly, around you?
Fill your heart with this, great as it is,
And when this feeling grants you perfect bliss,
Then call it what you will—
Happiness! Heart! Love! God!
I have no name for it!
Feeling is all;
Name is mere sound and reek
Clouding Heaven’s light.

Gretchen: That sounds quite good and right;
And much as the priest might speak,
Only not word for word.

Faust: It is what all hearts have heard
In all the places heavenly day can reach,
Each in his own speech;
Why not I in mine?

Gretchen: I could almost accept it, you make it sound so fine,
Still there is something in it that shouldn’t be;
For you have no Christianity.

Faust: Dear child!

Gretchen: It has long been a grief to me
To see you in such company.

Faust: You mean?

Gretchen: The man who goes about with you.
I hate him in my soul, through and through.
And nothing has given my heart
In my whole life so keen a smart
As that man’s face, so dire, so grim.

Faust: Beloved child, don’t be afraid of him!

3) Coleridge (kubla khan)
.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
.
   A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

4) Shelley (the cloud)

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.
.
.
5) Cornelius Matthews (Wakondah)
.
Green dells that into silence stretch away
.
.
6) Keats (hyperion)
.
Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,
Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,
Still as the silence round about his lair;
Forest on forest hung about his head
Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
Not so much life as on a summer’s day
Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
.
.
7) Pushkin (thoughts)

If I walk the noisy streets,
or enter a many thronged church,
or sit among the wild young generation,
I give way to my thoughts.

I say to myself: the years are fleeting,
and however many there seem to be,
we must all go under the eternal vault,
and someone’s hour is already at hand.

When I look at a solitary oak
I think: the patriarch of the woods.
It will outlive my forgotten age
as it outlived that of my grandfathers’.

If I caress a young child,
immediately I think: Farewell!
I will yield my place to you,
for I must fade while your flower blooms.

Each day, every hour
I habitually follow in my thoughts,
trying to guess from their number
the year which brings my death.

And where will fate send death to me?
In battle, in my travels, or on the seas?
Or will the neighbouring valley
receive my chilled ashes?

And although to the senseless body
it is indifferent wherever it rots,
yet close to my beloved countryside
I still would prefer to rest.

And let it be, beside the grave’s vault
Young life forever will be playing,
and impartial, indifferent nature
Spreads, forever staying.

8) Byron (darkness)

The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

9) Tennyson (the splendor falls)

The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
.
O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowng!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
.
O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.
.
.
10) Poe (conversation of eiros and charmion)

It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one measures of oxygen, and seventy-nine of nitrogen, in every one hundred of the atmosphere. Oxygen, which was the principle of combustion, and the vehicle of heat, was absolutely necessary to the support of animal life, and was the most powerful and energetic agent in nature. Nitrogen, on the contrary, was incapable of supporting either animal life or flame. An unnatural excess of oxygen would result, it had been ascertained, in just such an elevation of the animal spirits as we had latterly experienced. It was the pursuit, the extension of the idea, which had engendered awe. What would be the result of a total extraction of the nitrogen? A combustion irresistible, all-devouring, omni-prevalent, immediate; — the entire fulfilment, in all their minute and terrible details, of the fiery and horror-inspiring denunciations of the prophecies of the Holy Book.

Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of mankind? That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us with hope, was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its impalpable gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation of Fate. Meantime a day again passed — bearing away with it the last shadow of Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms rigidly outstretched towards the threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud. But the nucleus of the destroyer was now upon us; — even here in Aidenn, I shudder while I speak. Let me be brief — brief as the ruin that overwhelmed. For a moment there was a wild lurid light alone, visiting and penetrating all things. Then — let us bow down, Charmion, before the excessive majesty of the great God! — then, there came a shouting and pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself of HIM; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed, burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all-fervid heat even the angels in the high Heaven of pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.

11) Elizabeth Barrett (the drama of exile)

On a mountain peak
Half sheathed in primal woods and glittering
In spasms of awful sunshine, at that hour
A lion crouched,—part raised upon his paws,
With his calm massive face turned full on thine,
And his mane listening. When the ended curse
Left silence in the world, right suddenly
He sprang up rampant, and stood straight and stiff,
As if the new reality of death
Were dashed against his eyes,—and roared so fierce,
(Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear)—
And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
To distant silence,—that the forest beasts,
One after one, did mutter a response
In savage and in sorrowful complaint
Which trailed along the gorges.

12) R. H. Horne (orion)

There, underneath the boughs, mark where the gleam
Of sunrise through the roofing’s chasm is thrown
Upon a grassy plot below, whereon
The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream,
Swift rolling toward the cataract, and drinks,
While ever and anon the nightingale,
Not waiting for the evening, swells his hymn—
His one sustained and heaven aspiring tone—
And when the sun hath vanished utterly,
Arm over arm the cedars spread their shade,
With arching wrist and long extended hands,
And grave-ward fingers lengthening in the moon,
Above that shadowy stag whose antlers still
Hung o’er the stream.

13) Hawthorne (the scarlet letter)

She inherited her mother’s gift for devising drapery and costume. As the last touch to her mermaid’s garb, Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother’s. A letter,—the letter A,—but freshly green, instead of scarlet! The child bent her chin upon her breast, and contemplated this device with strange interest; even as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make out its hidden import.

14) Marx

There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value-relation between the products of labor which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to products of labor, so soon as they are produced as commodities.

15) Emily Dickinson (because i could not stop for death)
.
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.
.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
.
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
.
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
.
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
.
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
.
.
16) Wilde (the critic as artist)

I should have said that great artists worked unconsciously, that they were “wiser than they knew,” as, I think, Emerson remarks somewhere, but it is really not so.

All fine imaginative work is self-conscious and deliberate. No poet sings because he must sing. At least, no great poet does.  A great poet sings because he chooses to sing. It is so now, and it has always been so. We are sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now upon Olympus, and its steep, scraped sides are bleak and barren, but once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our historical sense is at fault. Every century that produces poetry is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort. There is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self-consciousness and the critical spirit are one.

The longer one studies life and literature, the more strongly one feels that behind everything that is wonderful stands the individual, and that it is not the moment that makes the man, but the man who creates the age. Indeed, I am inclined to think that each myth and legend that seems to us to spring out of the wonder, or terror, or fancy of tribe and nation, was in its origin the invention of one single mind.

~~~~~~~~~

Some interesting choices here!  Karl Marx??  And who is R.H. Horne? And Cornelius Matthews?  Perhaps only the Scarriet March Madness Committee knows for sure.

 

 

 

 

MARCH MADNESS 2020—THE SUBLIME!!

Image result for goya the giant

The sublime requires size.

The small, or that which aims at the small, cannot be sublime.

It’s really that simple.  And when we can be simple, we should be.  And this very idea has in it something of the sublime itself.  The sublime is not complex.  It is large, first, or, perhaps, complex in a large manner.

A large space is required; the sublime requires a long view.

I point out the simple, even grotesquely simple, criterion of sublimity to check those runaway intellectual arguments which will naturally veer away from a properly sublime definition.  There will always be something small about any intellectual argumentation, no matter how good it is.

The sublime is a fact, and cannot be argued into, or out of, existence.

The sublime is not necessarily that which takes a lot of work on the part of the artist. It simply is—or it should at least seem that way.

Searching through many pages of literature for examples of the sublime is a depressing task, for as one skips over many passages and poems because they do not quite reach the level of the sublime, unfulfilled expectations begin to sadden one on many levels; we say to ourselves: “I seem to remember letters being better than this. The sublime, after all, is the ultimate measure.” As we pass on more and more work, deciding it’s not worthy, searching for the ultimate begins to demoralize us. We can’t argue away this gut feeling.

But we push on, and when we find the sublime, we are happy.

An argument can be thorough, or decisive, or convincing. It can never be sublime.

But if a description is an argument, and if any piece of rhetoric either describes or convinces us of anything not mundane, then haven’t we excluded poetry from the sublime, if we say an argument can never be sublime?

Can an argument have dimensions? Can words have magnitude?

Certainly words can describe, and therefore whatever is a description of the sublime falls under the category of sublime poetry.

We should remember that Edmund Burke, in his famous mid-18th century essay on the sublime, said poetry was the better vehicle for the sublime than painting. He was thinking mostly about Milton and the Bible.

Painters and architects need material resources, a vision embodied and fleshed out, constructed, built, displayed, functioning in the eye with the depths and shadows of every massive, material, fact. Terrible echoes must sound and sigh; they must be real. A true glittering must struggle with the shadow over the abyss. A heavy door to the unknown must open suddenly to the wind.

The poet needs no materials, no edifices, no walls, no howling distances, no rock, no river, no eyesight aching, no pitiless view, no shadow from stone, no darkness deepening over drafty ruins, no bleak night times of silent stars.

Poetry, then, can be small, as long as what it describes is large.

Poetry has two choices: be modest or sublime. Prose is acquainted with every subject, every nuance; this the poet knows; the poet knows the only way to move the heart is by being humble—or its opposite.

Is it true that modern poetry has no sublime tradition?

No spark, no faint shower of light falling from beyond, no echo of Homer, Dante, or Milton troubles the modern eye. What creates the sublime? What storms greet our poetry now?

But we shouldn’t be hasty.

There may be plenty of sublime poetry in our day. We just need to look for it. Perhaps it’s there, but we have forgotten how to see it.

***

Edgar Poe, who lived on the other side of the abyss from today’s colloquial, modern sensibility, loved the sublime perhaps more than anything.

Modesty and sublimity are not values we assign to poetry anymore.

It says something about our age, that when it looks at Poe, it doesn’t see the sublime, but registers “macabre.”

But Poe was sublime all the way.

Not only in his poetry and fiction—but in his non-fiction, which included criticism.

In this review of William Ellery Channing, Poe, the critic, ridicules the attempt to be sublime:

My empire is myself and I defy
The external; yes, I rule the whole or die!

It will be observed, here, that Mr. Channing’s empire is himself, (a small kingdom, however,) that he intends to defy “the external,” whatever that is — perhaps he means the infernals and that, in short, he is going to rule the whole or die; all which is very proper, indeed, and nothing more than we have to expect from Mr. C.

Again, at page 146, he is rather fierce than otherwise. He says;

We surely were not meant to ride the sea,
Skimming the wave in that so prisoned small,
Reposing our infinite faculties utterly.
Boom like a roaring sunlit waterfall.
Humming to infinite abysms: speak loud, speak free!

Here Mr. Channing not only intends to “speak loud and free” himself, but advises every body else to do likewise. For his own part, he says, he is going to “ boom” — “to hum and to boom” — to “hum like a roaring waterfall,” and “boom to an infinite abysm.” What, in the name of Belzebub, is to become of us all?

Poe didn’t think much of Channing, the child of the preacher; Channing the Younger was a poet mentored by Emerson; Poe reviled Emerson’s didactic, sermonizing circle of New England Transcendentalists. Their whole attitude can be summed up in the couplet of Channing’s quoted above: “My empire is myself and I defy/The external; yes, I rule the whole or die!”  According to Poe, there was a way to do literature and “I rule the whole or die!” just wouldn’t do.

We wouldn’t know it (because who carefully reads widely in Poe’s critical prose) but Poe, at least in his own mind, to an extreme degree, was very forward thinking.  In the first few paragraphs of his review of Drama of Exile and Other Poems by Elizabeth Barrett, Poe says quite a bit against antiquity, and in favor of plain, modern, common sense:

1) He writes that he will not treat Barrett as a woman, but as a writer, as he points out that women should no longer be treated in a patronizing way by male authors.

2) Of Elizabeth Barrett’s long poem, “Drama of Exile” is the story of Eve, inspired by Greek Tragedy, Poe writes:

The Greek tragedies had and even have high merits; but we act wisely in now substituting for the external and typified human sympathy of the antique Chorus, a direct, internal, living and moving sympathy itself; and although AEschylus might have done service as “a model,” to either Euripides or Sophocles, yet were Sophocles and Euripides in London to-day, they would, perhaps, while granting a certain formless and shadowy grandeur, indulge a quiet smile at the shallowness and uncouthness of that Art, which, in the old amphitheatres, had beguiled them into applause of the Œdipus at Colonos.”

“It would have been better for Miss Barrett if, throwing herself independently upon her own very extraordinary resources, and forgetting that a Greek had ever lived, she had involved her Eve in a series of adventures merely natural, or if not this, of adventures preternatural within the limits of at least a conceivable relation — a relation of matter to spirit and spirit to matter, that should have left room for something like palpable action and comprehensible emotion — that should not have utterly precluded the development of that womanly character which is admitted as the principal object of the poem. As the case actually stands, it is only in a few snatches of verbal intercommunication with Adam and Lucifer, that we behold her as a woman at all. For the rest, she is a mystical something or nothing, enwrapped in a fog of rhapsody about Transfiguration, and the Seed, and the Bruising of the Heel, and other talk of a nature that no man ever pretended to understand in plain prose, and which, when solar-microscoped into poetry “upon the model of the Greek drama,” is about as convincing as the Egyptian Lectures of Mr. Silk Buckingham — about as much to any purpose under the sun as the hi presto! conjurations of Signor Blitz.

3) Poe then scolds Milton—who has influenced Barrett—in the following manner:

She [Barrett in her introduction] has made allusion to Milton, and no doubt felt secure in her theme (as a theme merely) when she considered his “Paradise Lost.” But even in Milton’s own day, when men had the habit of believing all things, the more nonsensical the more readily, and of worshipping, in blind acquiescence, the most preposterous of impossibilities — even then. there were not wanting individuals who would have read the great epic with more: — , could it have been explained to their satisfaction, how ind why it was, not only that a snake quoted Aristotle’s ethics, and behaved otherwise pretty much as he pleased, but that bloody battles were continually being fought between bloodless “innumerable angels,” that found no inconvenience m losing a wing one minute and a head the next, and if pounded up into puff-paste late in the afternoon, were as good “innumerable angels” as new the next morning, in time to be at reveille roll-call: And now — at the present epoch — there are few people who do not occasionally think. This is emphatically the thinking age; — indeed it may very well be questioned whether mankind ever substantially thought before. The fact is, if the “Paradise Lost” were written to-day (assuming that it had never been written when it was), not even its eminent, although over-estimated merits, would counterbalance, either in the public view, or in the opinion of any critic at once intelligent and honest, the multitudinous incongruities which are part and parcel of its plot.

This is all by way of the sublime.  One can see that Poe has very definite opinions on how one should go about writing in the sublime manner—one still needs to have both feet on the ground, even as one takes a certain fantastic license.

Here is Poe once more, from the “Drama of Exile”review, taking Barrett to task for being sublimely annoying:

But in the plot of the drama of Miss Barrett it is something even worse than incongruity which affronts: — a continuous mystical strain of ill-fitting and exaggerated allegory — if, indeed, allegory is not much too respectable a term for it. We are called upon, for example, to sympathise in the whimsical woes of two Spirits, who, upspringing from the bowels of the earth, set immediately to bewailing their miseries in jargon such as this:

I am the spirit of the harmless earth;
God spake me softly out among the stars,
As softly as a blessing of much worth —
And then his smile did follow unawares,
That all things, fashioned, so, for use and duty,
Might shine anointed with his chrism of beauty —
Yet I wail!

I drave on with the worlds exultingly,
Obliquely down the Godlight’s gradual fall —
Individual aspect and complexity
Of gyratory orb and interval,
Lost in the fluent motion of delight
Toward the high ends of Being, beyond Sight —
Yet I wail!

Innumerable other spirits discourse successively after the same fashion, each ending every stanza of his lamentation with the “yet I wail!” When at length they have fairly made an end, Eve touches Adam upon the elbow, and hazards, also, the profound and pathetic observation — “Lo, Adam, they wail!” — which is nothing more than the simple truth — for they do — and God deliver us from any such wailing again!

But let’s look at Poe selecting a passage of Barrett for praise.

And he loves this because it’s sublime, though he doesn’t use the word:

It is not our purpose, however, to demonstrate what every reader of these volumes will have readily seen self-demonstrated — the utter indefensibility of “The Drama of Exile,” considered uniquely, as a work of art. We have none of us to be told that a medley of metaphysical recitatives sung out of tune, at Adam and Eve, by all manner of inconceivable abstractions, is not exactly the best material for a poem. Still it may very well happen that among this material there shall be individual passages of great beauty. But should any one doubt the possibility, let him be satisfied by a single extract such as follows:

On a mountain peak
Half sheathed in primal woods and glittering
In spasms of awful sunshine, at that hour
A lion couched, — part raised upon his paws,
With his calm massive face turned full on shine,
And his mane listening. When the ended curse
Left silence in the world, right suddenly
He sprang up rampant, and stood straight and stiff,
As if the new reality of death
Were dashed against his eyes, — and roared so fierce,
(Such thick carnivorous passion in his throat
Tearing a passage through the wrath and fear)
And roared so wild, and smote from all the hills
Such fast keen echoes crumbling down the vales
To distant silence, — that the forest beasts,
One after one, did mutter a response
In savage and in sorrowful complaint
Which trailed along the gorges.

There is an Homeric force here — a vivid picturesqueness in all men will appreciate and admire. It is, however, the longest quotable passage in the drama, not disfigured with blemishes of importance; — although there are many — very many passages of a far loftier order of excellence, so disfigured, and which, therefore, it would not suit our immediate e to extract. The truth is, — and it may be as well mentioned at this point as elsewhere — that we are not to look in Miss Barrett’s works for any examples of what has been occasionally termed “sustained effort;” for neither are there, in any of her poems, any long commendable paragraphs, nor are there any individual compositions which will bear the slightest examination as consistent Art-products. Her wild and magnificent genius seems to have contented itself with points — to have exhausted itself in flashes; — but it is the profusion — the unparalleled number and close propinquity of these points and flashes which render her book one flame, and justify us in calling her, unhesitatingly, the greatest — the most glorious of her sex.

 

***

The history of the sublime can be summed up this way—in the 18th century, the idea of the sublime caught fire and exploded; the sublime was the dominant aesthetic well into the 19th century; then it vanished into the human-centered realism of modernism. Longinus was translated into English in the early 18th century—Longinus defined sublimity as ecstasy for the learned; Burke, an advocate of emotion linked to thought, called it terror, at a safe distance; Kant called it more reasonable than the beautiful, since it participates in the unknown and great thoughts and ideas launch into, and participate, in the unknown. The Romantics were swept up into greatness as they contemplated and breathed the sublime. Wordsworth used the sublime to be more than a nature poet, Coleridge’s best poetry burned with it; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein spoke to the fearful heart of it; Shelley, Byron, and Keats were what they were because of it; the glorious,18th century flame finally expired in the magnificence of Poe, who is called, by the small-minded, “macabre,” instead of what he really is—sublime.

***

THIS YEAR’S MARCH MADNESS HAS THE FOLLOWING FOUR BRACKETS: CLASSICAL, ROMANTIC, MODERN, AND POST-MODERN.

HERE ARE THE 16 MARCH MADNESS 2020 CONTENDERS—IN THE CLASSICAL BRACKET:

1) Homer (iliad)

Friend! You will die—but why moan about it so?
Remember Patroclus? He was better than you.
Look! I’m handsome and stronger—
A marvelous father, my mother a deathless goddess—
But thanks to fate, I, too, will be brought low.
At midnight, maybe at noon, a mortal will kill me, too—
From a spear, by chance thrown, or a singing arrow.

2) Plato (symposium)

The mysteries of love?  Begin with examples of beauty in the world, and using them as steps to ascend, with that absolute beauty as one’s aim, from one instance of physical beauty to two and from two to all, from physical beauty to moral beauty, and from moral beauty to the beauty of knowledge, until from knowledge of various kinds one arrives at the supreme knowledge—whose sole object is absolute beauty, to know at last what absolute beauty is.

3) Aristotle (poetics)

Having distinguished the parts, let us now consider the proper construction of the Fable or Plot—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.

4) Sophocles (oedipus rex)

Speak not to these or me. Thou art the man,
Thou the accursed polluter of this land.

5) Ovid (art of love)

It is art to conceal art.

6) Horace (ars poetica)

There are some mistakes we forgive. The string doesn’t always give the note that the hand and the mind intended: it often returns a high note when you ask for a low. The bow won’t always hit what it threatens to hit. But when most features of a poem are brilliant, I shan’t be offended by a few blemishes thrown around by carelessness or human negligence. But what then?  If a copyist goes on making the same mistake however much he is warned, he is not forgiven; if a lyre-player always gets the same note wrong, people laugh at him. I’m even angry when Homer nods, though a doze is OK in a long work.

7) Virgil (aeneid)

I abandoned you, and caused your grieving.
I abandoned you, and caused your death.
And now those same gods compel me to search in these shadows,
Where death reigns, and gruesome night is all.

8) Dante (inferno)

“These have no longer any hope of death;
This blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envy all—even others’ final breath.

The world does not permit them any fame;
Mercy does not care for this moaning mass;
Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass.”

And I, who looked again, beheld a banner
Whirling, moving in a frenzied manner,
Bobbing up and down, leading the creatures,

Who thronged, piteous, in great numbers,
Filling the circle. I could not believe
Death had undone so many.

9) Petrarch (la gola e ‘l sonno et l’otiose piume)

Greed and sleep and slothful beds
Have banished every virtue from the world,
So that, overcome by habit,
Our nature has almost lost its way.

And all the benign lights of heaven,
That inform human life, are so spent,
That he who wishes to bring down the light
From Helicon is pointed out as a wonder.

Such desire for laurel, and for myrtle?
‘Poor and naked goes philosophy,’
Say the crowd intent on base profit.

You’ll have poor company on that other road:
So much more I beg you, gentle spirit,
Don’t turn away from your great undertaking.

10) da  Vinci (notebooks)

The first intention of the painter is to make
A flat surface display a body
As if modeled and separated from this plane,
And he who most surpasses others in this skill
Deserves more praise.
This accomplishment,
With which the science of painting
Is crowned, arises from light and shade—
Chiaroscuro.
Therefore, whoever fights shy of shadow
Fights shy of the glory of art
As recognized by noble intellects,
But acquires glory according to the ignorant masses,
Who require nothing of painting other than beauty of color,
Totally forgetting the beauty and wonder
Of a flat surface
Displaying relief.
The art of painting embraces and contains within itself
All visible things. It is the poverty of sculpture
That it cannot show the colors of everything
And their diminution
With distance.

11) Shakespeare (the tempest)

Be not afraid; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

12) John Donne (death be no proud)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

13) Milton (paradise lost)

Some natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

14) G. E. Lessing (laocoon)

Objects which exist side by side, or whose parts so exist, are called bodies. Consequently bodies with their visible properties are the peculiar subjects of painting.

Objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other in time, are actions. Consequently actions are the peculiar subjects of poetry.

All bodies, however, exist not only in space, but also in time. They continue, and, at any moment of their continuance, may assume a different appearance and stand in different relations. Every one of these momentary appearances and groupings was the result of a preceding, may become the cause of a following, and is therefore the center of a present, action. Consequently painting can imitate actions, also, but only as they are suggested through forms.

Actions, on the other hand, cannot exist independently, but must also be joined to certain agents. In so far as those agents are bodies or are regarded as such, poetry describes also bodies, but only indirectly through actions.

Painting, in its coexistent compositions, can use but a single moment of an action, and must therefore choose the most pregnant one, the one most suggestive of what has gone before and what is to follow.

Poetry, in its progressive imitations, can use but a single attribute of bodies, and must choose that one which gives the most vivid picture of the body as exercised in this particular action.

Hence the rule for the employment of a single descriptive epithet, and the cause of the rare occurrence of descriptions of physical objects.

I should place less confidence in this dry chain of conclusions, did I not find them fully confirmed by Homer, or, rather, had they not been first suggested to me by Homer’s method. These principles alone furnish a key to the noble style of the Greek, and enable us to pass just judgment on the opposite method of many modern poets who insist upon emulating the artist in a point where they must of necessity remain inferior to him.

15) Thomas Gray (elegy in a country churchyard)

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.

16) Edmund Burke (introduction. on taste)

The mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than in searching for differences; because by making resemblance we produce new images, we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature. A piece of news is told me in the morning; this, merely as a piece of news, as a fact added to my stock, gives me some pleasure. In the evening I find there was nothing in it. What do I gain by this, but the dissatisfaction to find that I had been imposed upon? Hence it is, that men are much more naturally inclined to belief than to incredulity. And it is upon this principle, that the most ignorant and barbarous nations have frequently excelled in similitudes, comparisons, metaphors, and allegories, who have been weak and backward in distinguishing and sorting their ideas. And it is for a reason of this kind that Homer and the oriental writers, though very fond of similitudes, and though they often strike out such as are truly admirable, they seldom take care to have them exact; that is, they are taken with the general resemblance, they paint it strongly, and they take no notice of the difference which may be found between the things compared.

 

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!

 

THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Image result for bacchus in renaissance painting

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!!

Related image

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.”

****

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!!!

****

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.

****

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…

****

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

Image result for sweet sixteen

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.”

****

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!

 

THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET PLAYS FOR SWEET SIXTEEN

Image result for maenads and odysseus myth in renaissance painting

To say, with Edgar Poe, that poetry should be beautiful, is the most rigorous, scientific thing one can say about poetry.

Why is the idea misunderstood, dismissed, or even ridiculed, then?

Because the talkers stop talking when beauty enters the room.

Poetry wants nothing to do with beauty, we think, because beauty is an argument without words.

It is not the beauty poetry rejects, it is the wordless way beauty makes itself felt, which is the poetic problem.

Or so most poets think.

Beauty, it is true, is not poetry—but poetry can imitate beauty, which makes them the same, since all art is first and foremost, imitation.

Beauty does not mean merely “pretty.”

Beauty’s ability to argue without words is a faculty no poet should be without—because what is a poet most of all?

A poet is swift—they use far less words to make an impression than writers of prose.

Poetry, then, imitates beauty’s ability to make its point instantaneously.

In the time it takes to read a single line of poetry, we could never say we have taken the time to read a novel, an essay, or a short story.

But if in that brief moment in which we read that line of poetry, we feel we are reading poetry, then we are reading poetry, and beauty has been the midwife to the poetry—and, if we don’t feel we are reading poetry, hasn’t the poetry failed already, since poetry (like beauty) should be recognized immediately? And if the first line doesn’t seem to be poetry, what of the second line?  And should we really be waiting around for the poetry? Isn’t the whole point to be poetry right away?  Otherwise we might as well say we are writing a short story or an essay.  An essay needs time to argue, to explain.  And poetry, because it is poetry, does not.

It is not precisely beauty which poetry invokes—it is the swiftness in which something is communicated, and that something exists in a mysterious sweet spot between argument, which needs time, and beauty, which does not—and this is what poetry is, and how it comes closest to being beautiful, in fact.

March Madness contests require time. But quickness will triumph. Upsets are few where there is one factor—a towering center, a diminutive guard; it makes no difference, for quick on the ball, quick to defend, quick to shoot, quick to rebound, quick to pass, quick to get in position, is all. There is no division of labor. The blur of intention and action is the essence of physical sport. Poetry is almost the same.

Poetry conveys image, idea, feeling, originality, and rhythm in as few words as possible. This wins. Beauty of the eye? No poem can compete. Argument of the mind? No poem can compete, or would compete, since the rationale of poetry is different—it invokes what we think is beauty, what we think is argument, but which is actually a hybrid blur of the two.

Mobile, graceful, accurate, and swift is a summation of all we describe as the beautiful, either ideally in the mind or materially in nature. The excellence of which the poem is the owner is excellent in ratio to how quickly the reader grasps it.

With this in mind, we proceed to the matchups themselves:

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

This is a great example of irresistible swiftness. This is not 30% poetry and 70% prose, as most poems are, but 100% poetry: “one. candle. grown. lilac. in. a. perpetual. spring.”

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

This is not quite as pure—the action is less focused, specific, forceful.

Mary Angela Douglas advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

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

We may think we are seeing what Ann Leshy Wood has “painted,” but the aural quality is in fact fooling the eye into thinking it perceives beauty—the “o” sound is doing all the work: “groves, oranges, rot, somber, heron.” Just as poetry is a mysterious hybrid of argument and beauty, so the best poetry entices our eyes with its sound.

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

This is splendid. And why? It is simple and repetitive. Why is this better than a million far more detailed paragraphs? For the reasons we have just outlined. This is like a jump shot looking exactly the same three times in a row with the shooter hitting all three shots. No sports fan could want anything more.

Jennifer Robertson has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

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

This is one of the most remarkable poetic utterances a poet ever thought to make. “You’ve,” a rather clumsy-sounding word lumbers out of the starting gate, and “remembered,” another slow and awkward word embraces it—the fat ground is prepared; we have almost a novel already—swift, but slow. The phrase “you’ve remembered” has the weight of someone else’s memory thrown back onto, and into, the past—not “you remember” or “I’ve remembered,” but “you’ve remembered.” The next phrase, “how the winter went” continues the funereal rhythm of the trochaic, HOW the/ WIN-ter /WENT as / and introduces winter (a funereal season) as “how it went,” which introduces memory’s movement into the remembering—which is then repeated: “it went on, so we have “went” repeated, the “w” sound mingling with the “w” of winter, overwhelming the memory with remembering how winter “went on” (continued and continued) even as it “went”!!

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

This is also a remarkable group of lines, but compared to Medha Singh’s lines, which have the heft of a 19th century Russian novel, this is only an extremely clever description of a train coming out of a tunnel. “Window by window regained vision” is a brilliant way to cap “a train, blindfolded by a tunnel.”

The winner: Medha Singh. She’s going to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

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

There is nothing here which is not morally ingenious. All great art requires not only the moral, but the morally ingenious. The complaint is not shy: “Everything hurts.” Too often even the great love poets complain of a heart that aches, but Sushmita Gupta knows love the best:”Everything hurts.”

She then moves quickly from heavy complaint to winged, ironic wit: “even that which seems like love.”  And after the heavy (“everything hurts”) and the light (“even that which seems like”) the balance of both is exemplified by the last word: “love.” It is a dazzling, yet a sober and sad and wise performance. “Love” and “seems” never seemed so attractive and hateful at the same time.

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

There is transformation and action in Reana Shirali’s two short lines, enough for an entire Greek or Roman or Hindu myth.  The excitement is memorable, but it is more like an action movie than a performance which is morally ingenious.

Sushmita Gupta wins. Welcome to the Sweet Sixteen!

****

 

MORE LIFE BRACKET ACTION, SECOND ROUND

Image result for danez smith poet

Danez Smith goes for Sweet 16

In so many fields of study, categories matter.

It is a curious thing how little categories matter in the study of poetry.

We don’t seem to know what to say about poetry (we don’t even know what it is) so in order to support the art as we review it, critics fall into raptures about who the poet is, where they are from, and make only passing remarks on the subject matter, if it happens to matter.

But what of the poetry itself?

The New Critics spent most of the 20th century rejecting the biographical emphasis of Romanticism. But little has changed. Instead of young Keats coughing up blood there is the MFA, the gender, or the latest prize. What the poetry is actually doing barely registers. All we know is that it is most likely going to be about suffering.

But look at this matchup:

Danez Smith “I call your mama mama”

versus

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

Even with a few words, nothing could be more different than these two poetry opponents.

One is speech: “I call your mama mama.”

One is visual: “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

What makes us call these two very different things poetry?

Even if that question can never be answered, the game still must be played.

Mach Madness must go on.

It is almost April.

Danez Smith is more concise, and the two most important words of the five are identical: mama, a rather universal word of immense importance. If poetry cannot define this by Danez Smith, then this by Danez Smith defines poetry.

But “I call your mama mama” is something people might say every day.

Surely, as a construct, as an expressive thing, the following is infinitely more unique: “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high” —Surely this is one in a million—to compare a jet high in the sky to a dime—and it causes us to see it, the metaphor being wonderfully true.

On the other hand, doesn’t “like a diamond in the sky” come immediately to mind?

And it could be said that the uniqueness is based on an obscure fact of no real consequence—a far away jet looking like a dime.

But the metaphor of jet-as-dime also contributes to “All of the sky is silent.” The distant jet not only shines like a dime, it is the same size as a dime, and silent like a dime, too, and so there’s two working parts, the “silent sky,” and the jet-as-a-dime metaphor, and they work nicely together.

Mama and mama also work well together, and the dramatic brevity of “I call your mama mama” is understated and arresting. The “I” carries interest; without it, the line falls apart, and so in a natural sort of way this is lyricism of the highest order.

But let us return (as we must, in the back and forth of the game) to “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

Both Solomita’s silent sky and far away, silent jet, achieves a melancholy effect, based on factual description alone, a skill we attach to poetry.

This part: “the jet shining like a dime way up high” sounds like the poet is saying the “dime” is “way up high”—but in fact it’s the “jet” which is “shining (like a dime) way up high.” This confusion actually helps the metaphor.

Alec Solomita edges out Danez Smith! Alec Solomita has made it to the Sweet Sixteen!

****

This second round contest in the Life bracket also features objects which elicit emotion.

Is this an admirable human trait? Do only poets have emotional responses to objects? When is this response nothing more than superstition and weakness? Is it poetry’s job to encourage these responses?

Divya Guha is taking advantage of the trope. “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

But the poet will protest: It is not the shaver, the laptop; it is the fact that they are gone that matters.

Ah, wonderful trick—mention a thing gone and it works twice as hard—as a thing and as a missing thing.

And then to exploit the whole idea further—one, the laptop; two, the missing laptop; and three, the “greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.” The object is “hiding you” almost as if the missing person introduced as “you” at the very end of the line were still there, hiding in the room—but the real message (a message we may find on the laptop itself if we only look hard enough) is that the person the poet cared about was in some ways always gone, swallowed by the greediness of impersonal laptop technology.

The poet uses “greedy” to describe both the laptop and “you,” who, it is assumed, was selfishly inclined to bury themselves in the internet. So a whole bunch of things are missing. Ten of the saddest and most poignant words ever written.

Stephen Cole uses a similar strategy with his objects—they are missing, or away from him, but  we see and hear them through the poet, doing a whole lot:

“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.”

A poet names objects to bring them back.

But Stephen Cole knows his poem’s objects will not come back—they are chasing themselves, indifferent to him. He can “feel” the “wind-tides” which belong to a mountain he has named; he can “hear” the action of things, “brakes” which belong to other things (vehicles) attached to an “incline” of a “Pass,” also named by the poet. The effect is so powerful and melancholy and strange that some say we almost don’t need the “suicide” of the “brakes” or the “sad” of the “incline,” the whole thing works so well.

Is this poetry? The second naming of things after Adam, things which are never quite defined and never quite stay?

Excuse the melancholy impulse. The March Madness arena is roaring—the fans want their conclusion.

These collections of objects, which make their poets sad, smash into each other.

The laptop. Fremont’s Pass.

The game—this crying thing—must end.

The “greedy laptop” wins.

Divya Guha advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

The advantage of speech is that objects are always either contained or implied in it, whereas poet who don’t speak, but attempt to objectively paint scenes like a painter, are removed from speech, so remain painters solely. Speech can also describe.

These two final contestants in round two of the Life bracket utilize what might be called high speech—an utterance which does not sound entirely natural; it belongs more to oratory or opera.

The first, by N Ravi Shankar, is sweet and bizarre:

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

The second, by Sam Sax, affects a humble wisdom:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

The object for Sax is “this,” which “you” are reading, so the poetry is the object itself, a delight which ought to be enough.

The “lullaby” of the bamboos creaking substitutes for the mother’s voice, who is “nude” with the poet—and we are not sure why. How can we seriously judge this? Well, that’s the point. Our judgment falters, and in the moment that it does, the nudity of mother and son and the creaking of the bamboo branches invade us with a calm which erases understanding. Objects can be felt, but not understood. They don’t have to be understood in poems.

“that you are reading this” completely understands “this,” for the “reading” of it “must be enough.” There is an urgency and a clarity and an abstractness here, utterly beyond objects and utterly at odds with the “bamboo lullaby.”

To such an effect, produced by the bamboo lullaby, we almost have to laugh.

N Ravi Shankar has won round two! He’s off to Sweet Sixteen!

****

 

LIFE BRACKET, SECOND ROUND

Modernism attempted to shrug off traditions.

It failed. Or did it?

What it produced were two things:  little magazines which no one read, and Ezra Pound, their leader, in a cage (captured for treason as WW II ended).

Modernism’s goal in literature was to make things which no one could read. Ulysses and Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. The Cantos by Pound. The Red Wheel Barrow by W.C. Williams, which no one read because unlike Ulysses and The Cantos which were too long, The Red Wheel Barrow was too short—so it wasn’t read; it was only looked at.

If a few traditional works were admired by the Modernists, in every case they were works also unreadable, like Moby Dick, a long novel with alternate chapters on whaling techniques.

Modernism succeeded modestly in one area, however. The schools, which tell you what to read, thought it proper to embrace works no one wants to read. So literary modernism has done pretty well there.

If you add in the Creative Writing Programs (you too! can be a Red Wheel Barrow poet! You too! can write books no one really likes but which highbrows say one ought to like!) we can almost say Modernism from the 1930s to our present day has been nearly triumphant.

The poetry traditions have been mostly shrugged off, what with all these academically credentialed poets supporting each other with awards and prizes, teaching one another, publishing one another, so that even one of their own number occasionally mourn there’s too many poets. Are these countless poet good? No, they are bad, and even intentionally so, since they are the children of Modernism, whose reason for being is to create unreadable works. It is all part of demolishing all the traditions. Reading. Democracy. Nations. Marriage. Religion. Hard work. After 1930, or so, to be a poet meant you had to hate all these things. Well, Mr. Wheel Barrow, how else are you expected to be understood as a respectable poet? No one is expected to read you, much less enjoy reading you, so you need to make it clear you are a good Modernist in some other way. You hate marriage and have no time for children. You hate your country and you hate hard work and you hate all the traditions. As long as this is clear, and your poems cannot be understood, and do not sound like poems at all, you will be a recognized as a poet today, just as you were in 1922.

Unlike literature professors, working class people cannot afford to see traditions as trends. Traditions keep working class people sane, safe, and fed.

One of the oldest traditions is sports.

“Casey At The Bat” is not a modernist poem.

It seemed an impossible task to get hard working sports fans to show up for a contemporary poetry contest.

The 2019 March Madness poetry tourney does not feature sports poems.

So the Scarriet March Madness committee came up with a brilliant compromise.

The Scarriet March Madness 2019 tournament would use small pieces of poems. Too small to look ancient or modern in style, a timeless quality is evinced. A small piece of a poem, judged on its own limited merits, fails or succeeds as poetry in the cosmic sense, not as a trendy, modernist, tradition-smashing work.

In the spirit of ancient Athens, which gave birth to democracy, tragedy, and playwright contests, sports fans began acting like poets, choosing their favorite words to follow and poets began acting like sports fans, picking their favorite words to win.

William Logan, the no.1 seed in the Life bracket, is known more as a critic than a poet, and his criticism resembles a gladiator arena, where poets are regularly and mercilessly cut to pieces, to the joy of his readers. It isn’t just about liking poetry, it’s about seeing bad poets get justice, too. Any worthy judgment of a poem furthers poetry. To judge poetry is to love poetry. Poetry is a tradition. Loving, judging, and protecting it is a tradition, too.

Logan writes two kinds of poems—formalist poems for the ages and modernist, “difficult” poems for his brainwashed peers. Logan has chosen a brilliant, three-part, career strategy: 1. write poems the academics expect, 2. write a small amount of perfected formalist poems, and 3. write brilliant critical takedowns of your peers.

Logan hopes to be a champion in 2019 with this, from one his formalist poems:

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

The ambiguity of desire is spoken by the conversational “guess,” and then the speech is echoed in the rhyme and rhythm of the body language of “ghost of a caress.” Nothing too fancy here, but the execution is admirable. What else do we want from poetry qua poetry, anyway? An act of legislation? A history lesson? A campfire tale? A menu? A contract? A marriage proposal? A scientific discovery? Food advice? What?

Logan hopes to overcome Kim Gek Lin Short, the 12th seed, and

If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.

This seems like the wonderful start of a novel in blank verse. We love the rhythm which hits on the important monosyllabic “t” words:

If TRUTH be told, the THEFT began a TIME before

with the additional “th” movement from “truTH” to “THeft”

and staying with the iambic all the way, her sequence ends on a word with a “d” sound, more definite by exactly half than the similar “t” sound:

that SUM-mer DAY.

Almost enough to make you weep, it’s so beautiful.

But still Logan wins.

Willam Logan has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

MYSTERIOUS BRACKET, SECOND ROUND

Image result for telephone abstract painting

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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

BEAUTIFUL BRACKET—THE END OF ROUND ONE

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Sushmita Gupta is the sixth seed in the Beautiful Bracket:

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

The artist turns pain into beauty, and this transformation makes it possible to live.

Art has a life of its own, whether we are happy, or not. The poet’s poems are personal, but to us, they are just poems—which don’t care about us.  Why should they?  They are just poems, and true audiences exist only when the readers don’t know the poets personally.

There is nothing we can say about poems. The poem is the “saying” itself.  A poem is not a friend telling us something; so why do we care at all when Sushmita Gupta expresses hurt?

We (audiences) don’t. We (audiences) only care about the beauty of the poem. We (audiences) only care when someone is able to transform pain into beauty. This is the miracle.

Does this mean that we are perfectly heartless when we admire poems?

Yes.

Because obviously, people are moved to sympathy and pity by each other—imagine if this were only possible with the help of poems. Then we would be in real trouble.

So, yes, we are heartless when we admire the sentimental beauty of poems.

“Sentimental beauty.”  Endowing beauty with sentiment and sentiment with beauty is the cool, impersonal work of poems.

To overcome sorrow as either a poet or a person, we can have nothing to do with sorrow, and not feeling sorrow, we cannot feel pity, and so yes, poems and poets have no heart, and neither does beauty, and this instructs us as individuals to be strong, and not weak.

Art is the public expression of individual resourcefulness. Beauty and sentiment, which are opposites, are forced by art to be one.

Sushmita Gupta’s opponent is Dimitry Melnikoff, whose beautiful line is:

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

Beauty loves the uncanny and the uncanny loves the beautiful. When we sense this beauty is inevitable—that this beauty had to be beautiful in this way only—it produces the effect of the uncanny.  The ‘o’ sounds of “Offer” and “glow” and the ‘g’ sounds of “gulp” and “glow” make the visual and the action of the line feel inevitable, and so the beauty of the line feels uncanny—which is better than beauty alone.

The Scarriet March Madness arena is swaying with small globes of light.

The rhythm of “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love” finds the pain, the “minor” chord, of the dactlyic/trochaic, EV-‘ry-thing/ HURTS, ev-/ giving way to the more hopeful, “major key” iambic, -en THAT/which SEEMS/like LOVE.

The entire sequence turns on “seems,” for what seems to hurt, hurts; seeming has to do with the senses; but also “seems” implies a mistake; so there is a hidden optimism: “love” which only “seems,” hurts, but what if love were true, and not seeming? Perhaps then the hurt of everything will be transcended. A lesser poet would not have put the stress on SEEMS; Sushmita makes sure the rhythm and the (hidden) meaning work as one.

Sushmita Gupta wins.

****

How would William Shakespeare do in this tournament?  Let’s find out.  The Fragment Handicap is a challenge to all.  Can we feel Shakespeare’s greatness in brief?

“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

No matter how great the poet, they are only allowed one volley, one swipe at the ball, and the opponent gets to hit it briefly back.  The volley is not a 150-mile-per-hour shot, but a few words.

C.P. Surendran tackles the pearls with this:

“A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

Both Shakespeare and Surendran picture blindness in a beautiful way: Eyes as pearls.  A train in a tunnel—window by window—regaining sight.

If poetry is finally speech, Shakespeare is a great lesson. In this instance, the odd, “Those were pearls that were his eyes,” still sounds like something someone would say.

“A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision,” not so much.

But must a poem sound like speech? Surely that is open for debate, but I have a feeling it helps.

The division between reading a line of verse, and hearing it spoken by a person, must give us pause.

Reading poetry is much like a train going over a track.

What is a train’s vision? How does a train see, window by window? There is a sweet, teasing, entrancement in contemplating this.

It’s really impossible the immortal Shakespeare would lose, isn’t it?

The crowd goes wild.

C.P. Surendran has won!

****

And now the final contest in the First Round.

A.E. Housman, who published in the late 19th century, but died in 1936—not that long ago—often contemplates grief in the English countryside, and when the British Empire encircled the world from icy sea to tropical pool, it was from their own meadows and garden plots English poetry most sweetly poured. Soldiers left Britain and conquered, but when the poets left Britain they died. As a proud and strict professor of Latin, Housman was said to bring women to tears with his scolding manner. He also had trouble remembering their names. It is said he made frequent trips to France, because they had dirty books which were banned in Britain.  Housman’s tournament entry:

“The rose-lipped girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

In poetry, one can never go wrong by repetition: the rose-lipped girls…where roses fade.

Raena Shirali is not as famous as Housman, but google will yet tell you a thing, or two. Her book of poems, GILT, has been widely reviewed, and the Chicago Review of Books says, “Shirali, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has written a collection that dissects experiences against a white Southern background and begs the question: “What does America demand of my brown body?”

In her battle with Housman, she is quicker, by far:

“we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

There isn’t the music of “The rose-lipped girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

In Housman’s time, there were heavy leather books of poems in every home, and quotation books with iambic lines on roses.

Shelley died with a book by Keats in his pocket.

Today, poets carry an electronic universe.

“we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

Raena Shirali, nearly invisible, in a close game, wins.

****

Here are the 32 winners of Round One

The Bold Bracket

Diane Lockward (d. Aaron Poochigian)

Aseem Sundan (d. Hoshang Merchant)

Linda Ashok (d. Menka Shivdasani)

Edgar Poe (d. John Milton)

Daipayan Nair (d. Philip Larkin)

Eliana Vanessa (d. Joie Bose)

Robin Richardson (d. Robin Morgan)

Khalypso (d. Walter Savage Landor)

**

The Mysterious Bracket

Jennifer Barber (d. Sophia Naz)

Srividya Sivakumar (d. Percy Shelley)

Aakriti Kuntal (d. A.E. Stallings)

Merryn Juliette (d. Ranjit Hoskote)

Michelina Di Martino (d. Meera Nair)

Kushal Poddar (d. Sukrita Kumar)

Nabina Das (d. Ben Mazer)

Sridala Swami (d. Richard Wilbur)

**

The Life Bracket

William Logan (d. Garrison Keillor)

Danez Smith (d. Akhil Katyal)

Divya Guha (d. Semeen Ali)

N Ravi Shankar (d. Lily Swarn)

Kim Gek Lin Short (d. Rupi Kaur)

Alec Solomita (d. June Gehringer)

Stephen Cole (d. Marilyn Chin)

Sam Sax (d. Dylan Thomas)

**

The Beautiful Bracket

Mary Angela Douglas (d. Abhijit Khandkar)

Ann Leshy Wood (d. Ravi Shankar)

Medha Singh (d. Philip Nikolayev)

Sharanya Manivannan (d. Yana Djin)

Jennifer Robertson (d. John Keats)

Sushmita Gupta (d. Dimitry Melnikoff)

C.P Surendran (d. William Shakespeare)

Raena Shirali (d. A.E. Housman)

****

 

 

MORE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET FIRST ROUND ACTION

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Yana Djin and Sharanya Manivannan are the 4th seed v. 13th seed contest in Bracket Beautiful.

Their lines have a wonderful delicacy, an overlooked quality in these paranoid, swaggering days of “hard knocks” political poetry and hoarse voices calling out from the real human to the real human in the avalanche of the continuing Modern-Against-Victorian backlash.

Edgar Poe, a poet more familiar with the “hard knocks” of life than most, opined that “delicacy” was poetry’s “eldorado.”

It is not that poetry is unable to do other things—but if you’ve studied your Aristotle and your logic, never mind your Plato, you understand that you want to do in poetry what poetry is able to do better than anything else.

If delicacy means keen-eared and sensitive, traits which are desirable in society, no matter what political party you swear to—and poetry as society’s glue spotlights delicacy better than any other intellectual activity—bring it on.

“Morning dew will dress each stem” by Yana Djin is as delicate as you’re likely to find, and this by Sharanya Manivannan is, too:

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

What is it that we mean by delicacy, exactly?  Is it possible to depict an indelicate act in sensitive writing?

Slugging it out on the floor
In the middle of the bar next door.

This, of course, has the advantage of “floor/door” pow! pow!

What about this?  “The delicate fist flew into his face.”

This only goes to show, perhaps, that delicacy is at the bottom of all attractive language—and it’s a hybrid quality; it can usefully combine with all sorts of things all day.

“Morning dew will dress each stem” has uses no person of Letters can deny—the delicacy of observing dew upon a stem is manifest in the delicacy of the speech of the poetry itself, which manifests rigor, and not merely “weakness,” as the delicate, could, in some instances, be described.

Scholars like to assign art to a century, and then say, you cannot do this anymore.  But originality is in every time period the same, breaking through every fence a mere scholar might erect.

This reminds me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but what of that?

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

In a very close contest, Sharanya Manivannan wins.

****

John Keats would find himself in this contemporary contest, this March Madness tournament, like waking briefly from a strange dream to a stranger one. We imagine him on a small hill with leaves all around him, hearing this spoken by a voice not his own:

“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

The 12th seeded poet unfortunate enough to be matched with Keats in the Beautiful Bracket is Jennifer Robertson, but there is no shame in her line,

“ocean after ocean after ocean”

Fate will have been kind to her, to match her against Keats, if she wins.  Some, I suppose, will want to travel to this tournament’s end, suffering the indignity of poetry playing against itself, fans yelling in the poet’s ears, in a setting of critical artificiality.

Fate is kind to Jennifer Robertson.

“ocean after ocean after ocean” wins.

Keats can go back to sleep.

****

BEAUTIFUL BRACKET—MORE FIRST ROUND ACTION

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A painting can evoke a thousand poems. A line of poetry can evoke a painting.

Ann Leshy Wood, the second seed in the Beautiful Bracket, demonstrates this:

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

Ravi Shankar “What matters cannot remain.”

It is a lot to ask a poem to perform as part of itself. This is, of course, impossible, but competition of every kind is fraught with the same doubt.

As soon as we block off time, artificiality reigns, and all of us, in competition or not, are stuck forever in these tyrannies which either we, or time itself, makes. The natural deadlines wound as much as deadlines artificial and planned: every poem, every judgment, every look, every affectionate effort must end. Ann Wood’s herons will be called away from the bay. Ravi Shankar’s line will look for support before and after, in vain. These will not remain. But the oranges will rot forever. Rot is forever. Some things will remain.

A strange scent, of oranges, fills the arena.

Ann Leshy Wood wins.

****

Medha Singh brings a stunning line to the competition:

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

The insouciance and naturalness of the line nonetheless carries with it a rhythm the rhyming Romantic poets—even the best of them—would admire. This is the future of poetry, right here; it is natural speech which a Wordsworth or a Williams would cry out for, yet has a music a Yeats or Poe would envy. The fans of Medha Singh make a great, confident noise in the arena; they know she will be nearly impossible to beat, even though the Beautiful Bracket is full of great poets and lines.

Her opponent is a magnificent mind and poet, Philip Nikolayev, so Medha’s fans feel that stirring of anxiety fans feel before the starting whistle, even as they clamor and laugh in their boisterous exuberance. A certain quiet invades their numbers as they glance nervously at this:

“within its vast domain confined”

Truly we are confined. The sights and smells of the arena keep us here. Here there is no transcendence. Our fellow fans cannot help us. We are alone. We love being part of the friendly crowd, part of a vast domain confined, but we know at any moment we can be led away to ourselves, where doubts cry in us, alone. The arena becomes silent; every ceremony accounts, in a strange moment, for the individual in us all. Like syllables stepping through a line of verse, every member of the crowd reads:

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

We rise, stunned, from our seats. Programs and tickets flutter to the floor. Are we no longer confined? Outside, winter waits.

Medha Singh has won.

 

FROM THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET ROUND ONE

A terrible error occurred in American culture in the early 20th century: a profound turning away from the sentimental in aesthetics and life. The great poets blend the unsentimental and the sentimental—this is the whole of the tension which creates the dramatic. Significant art and sublime dramatic tension is the mixture of sentimental weeping and cruel, unsentimental revenge; of warmth, love, coldness, mistakes—comedic or tragic.

The poetry is good or bad; but necessary sentimentality, itself, cannot be bad. It was the Modernist error to cast away all of sentimentality as bad. Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson, Dickinson, Yeats, Teasdale, Millay, and the best of Eliot, are sentimental as hell, even as they are true and sublime. It isn’t sentimentality that is ever the problem; the absence of it informs that bad educated poetry (smart but frozen) ubiquitous since the 1930s, academically or politically respected, which we are obligated to like—wet petals on a wheel barrow, poetry unable, like the best of Yeats, to hold back emotion, because it has no emotion at all. Emotion may be implied, but there is no structural emotion—it’s chatter, not art.

If so much amateur rubbish outside the Academy seems sentimental, it is only a trick that this is somehow the fault of sentimentality; the sentimental is the default which hangs on in much well-meaning verse that is simply, for reasons other than sentimentality, just plain simplistic and bad.

If you don’t believe me, check the progress of “sentimental” in the OED—in the early 20th century that which was necessary for all art and life of high feeling morphed into a negative. It is no wonder the 20th century fell into immense crimes of cruelty.  All fanatics share this: they are touchy and defensive and overly serious and, in hidden ways, sentimental—to the point of not being so. Fanaticism is where the sentimental goes to hide and die. And imagine the dangers of fanaticism where all respectable, aesthetic, high brow society frowns on the sentimental.

All would agree we live in an angry, fanatical world now. The first step to fix things is extremely simple, because the great error which haunts us is simple, and therefore, great, and fiercely egregious, and blind. Bring the sentimental back into the fine arts.

This is not to say that all works should become overtly sentimental; it is only that sentimentality should never be isolated as bad, and destroyed. We feel happy, and this sentiment is all human life needs. The road to feeling happy is never sentimental all the time, but it would be silly to lose sight of the goal, or to take such long side routes that we completely lose sight of the goal, or reject whatever sentimental teaching joys we do meet on the road. John Lennon was both sentimentally loving in art and life—as well as cruel and sarcastic. The great artist is both. Lennon was more sentimental than Dylan—who was known for political protest and unsentimental lines like “it ain’t me, babe, it ain’t me you’re looking for, babe!” Yet Lennon sarcastically mocked Dylan (never mind Paul) to great effect. The sentimental never precludes its opposite. The deeply sentimental combined with sarcastic unsentimentally in appropriate ways lies at the center of wisdom in art and life.

Here is the Beautiful Bracket’s First Round action:

The no. 1 seed is Mary Angela Douglas, and her “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring,” is beautiful and sublime.

Her opponent is “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

Abhijit Khandkar brings to this contest the same powerful mingling of burning and nature; the “sea” is burning up the poem—the sacred (or secular?) offering—by “feeding” on it. In a transaction similar, but traveling in the opposite direction, the “one candle” burns (or grows) into “lilac in a perpetual spring.”

A lovely battle.

The Douglas is miraculous, optimistic, and moving; the Khandkar is pessimistic, naturalistic, and moving. Both lift with the same sort of religious awe. The “one candle” versus the “sea.” The “perpetual” versus the “ravenous.” Growing versus feeding.

Abhijit Khandkar is more in the poet’s skin, acting in a clear manner: “So I write this poem and feed it to…”

Mary Angela Douglas is the poet witnessing no action: “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

The sublime is the equivalency of great feeling with the great. What is “the great?” We are not sure until the sublime poem makes us feel, even as we are given to understand that the frozen alps, the horrible battle, the wide misty sea, the merciless winter, have no feelings for us at all. “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.” We, who have feelings, worship what does not. The sublime accuses us in divine, sentimental torture—we know, but do not know. We cry out—to what will never cry.

At last, in fearful meditation, we will ourselves to become one with the beautiful.

“One candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

The torture past, we achieve peace in the modest and the beautiful.

Mary Angela Douglas wins.

****

The rest of the Beautiful Bracket to come:

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.”

 

MORE FIRST ROUND LIFE BRACKET PLAY

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Marilyn Chin

When it comes to poetry, lying is either good, or it isn’t.

There are several ways we can approach lying and poetry.

Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was very clever in his Defense of Poetry: poetry does not claim to tell the truth, so it “cannot lie.”

Plato, the social critic who condemned poetry, went to great lengths not to allow what would become Sidney’s excuse to wind its way into society. Plato said: no, poetry does lie, even if it does so unintentionally, and furthermore, careless or ignorant lying is worse than intentional lying—which may be a puzzling thing for Plato to say, until you realize: who would trust a pilot who can’t fly but thinks he can?  To trust ignorance in any matter of importance leads to our doom, whereas cunning, selfish, deception at least participates in knowing; unlike ignorance—a hijacker, to save himself, might save us.

The third approach, as an increasing number of contemporary poets might put it: we can forget about lying and poetry. Poetry is truth and my poetry tells the truth.

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.”

Gehringer’s opponent in the Life Bracket is:

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

We could see the modern day Plato perhaps objecting to the poetry of June Gehringer—but not necessarily because it lies. Isn’t June Gehringer telling the truth? Ultimately, Plato wanted to protect his idea of the Republic.  Both lies and truth, in their own way, can serve the long term good. Plato wanted the role-model gods in poetry to be depicted as brave, and not cowardly.  Since cowardice has more emotion than bravery, in Plato’s view, emotion was bad, and therefore emotional poetry was bad.

Is this emotional? “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

One can hear this spoken with no emotion at all.

Yet there does seem to be emotion in the expression itself—in the poetry.

Gehringer’s truth is an emotional, dramatic truth—of which Plato was wary.

We cannot believe Plato would be afraid of “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high.”

We have no idea whether if one of these wins, it will be a victory for a certain kind of philosophy.  There is a quiet charm in that “jet shining.”

We don’t know if this means the Republic will survive, but Alec Solomita wins.

****

Marilyn Chin is the author of the iconic, late 20th century poem, “How I Got That Name,” and she finished second to Ben Mazer in the 2012 Scarriet March Madness Tournament. She brings to this 2019 March Madness, the tourney made of fragments, this one which closes her famous poem:

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

Scarriet discovered Stephen Cole on Facebook. It’s a pity more don’t know his work.

“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.”

This is a classic battle between classic architecture: “all that was/all that was” v. “I feel the/I hear the”

“Lavished” and “taken” packs a real punch, and the “wind-tides” and “cry of suicide brakes” sure is haunting.

This is too close to call.

Stephen Cole, in a puff of smoke lingering over Fremont’s Pass, wins.

***

Sam Sax has that drinking, slam poet vibe, and maybe he’s this century’s Dylan Thomas, we don’t know. His opponent is Dylan Thomas, in a twist of fate. Do not go gently into that March Madness. The ‘Dylan Thomas poet’ is known for those rueful, end-of-the-line truths.  Sam Sax brings it with:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

Hits it out of the park, doesn’t it?

The ‘Dylan Thomas poet’ sometimes sinks into hyperbole and sentimentality.  They either hit a home run, or fall down, striking out.

And, to speak for the Dylan Thomas poet is Dylan Thomas:

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

We all know what he means.

Sax and Thomas lean on each other, exhausted, after 15 rounds of fighting:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

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

Sam Sax has just enough!  Sam Sax advances!

****

Next up, the fourth and last bracket of play, the Beautiful Bracket—first round.

Then we’ll be down to 32 poets,and heading for the Sweet 16…

 

 

 

MORE ROUND ONE ACTION IN THE LIFE BRACKET

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The final play of the Life Bracket in round one features the Insta-poet Rupi Kaur, who has taken poetry to best-selling heights no one thought possible. Billy Collins sold well for a poet but Rupi Kaur sells millions of books.  The Insta-poets, those poets who write very short poems on social media, account for about half of poetry book sales today.

But are epigrams, or little, cute, wise sayings, poetry?

Well, yes.

Because once High Modernism was allowed to say what poetry is, the game is over, and there are no more rules.

“The Red Wheel Barrow” by W.C. Williams, was critically praised (along with Pound’s haiku-like “In the Station at the Metro”) by the respected, highbrow, academic New Critics, in their much-used textbook, Understanding Poetry (several editions kept it current from the late 1930s to the mid-1970s) and not one academic that I’m aware of ever objected to that piece of Insta-crap.  Williams belonged to the Modernist clique of Pound, Eliot, and Moore, so “The Red Wheel Barrow” was good.

And if the “The Red Wheel Barrow” is good, why isn’t Rupi Kaur good?

Lots of academics say Rupi Kaur is “shallow,” and perhaps she is, but why doesn’t anyone think “The Red Wheel Barrow” is shallow?

The pundits stand around in speechless awe before any thing (one thinks of that silly “plums” poem) by William Carlos Williams, and yet, Rupi Kaur, the academics are certain, is “shallow.”

There is a difference, of course, between, an “imagist” poem like The Red Wheel Barrow, which doesn’t “say” anything, and an Instagram poem which does “say something”—and therefore can easily be measured as “shallow.”

The secret to saying nothing, is that no one can say you are “shallow,” and the highbrows in academia may even embrace you.

But then why doesn’t everyone write Red Wheel Barrow poems all the time which say absolutely nothing?

Is it because it’s a joke, like Duchamp’s toilet, that only works once? 

But then why does William Carlos Williams get to tell it?

Did William Carlos Williams invent “not saying anything?”

Didn’t haiku come first?

As any dunce knows, the best poetry exists in that middle realm between saying absolutely nothing (with a wheel barrow) and saying everything, in that fully and absolutely neat way an epigram does.

This is why poems need to be a certain length.   They should be neither too short, nor too long; they should not say nothing, but they should not say too much.  To be quite simple about it.

This March Madness tournament is based on brevity—for philosophical reasons, and by which these philosophical dispatches by Scarriet exist.  We do hope you are enjoying the play.

Anyway, if you don’t like Rupi Kaur, blame High Modernism.  If the “The Red Wheel Barrow,” which says nothing, is allowed, then why shouldn’t a poem just as brief, which says a little more than nothing, be allowed?

Rupi Kaur’s “i am not street meat i am homemade jam” faces off against this by Kim Gek Lin Short, from a poem published by The American Poetry Review, called “Playboy Bunny Swimsuit Biker:”

“If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

The child of the Wheel Barrow v. a playboy bunny swimsuit on a bike.

We understand immediately what Rupi is saying: She’s “homemade jam”—she’s authentic and organic. She’s not “street meat”—crassly selling herself.  Which is a great thing to boast about, after all.

We know what Kim Gek is saying, though we don’t know exactly what she is saying, but we do love the perfect iambic rhythm.

Kim Gek Lin Short wins.

****

Next in the Life Bracket Round One Play:

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.”

vs.

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

 

LIFE BRACKET ROUND ONE PLAY

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Semeen Ali competes in the Life Bracket with 15 other poets

William Logan is known for fierce criticism.

His poetry is nicer.

His poetry is where his scholar smiles, that aging tour guide, who gently waves his hand. He has published a lot of poems, but the criticism is what he is known for.  His critical lash has stung. His poems? Not a mark.

His criticism is the offense, his poetry, the defense. His poems are thick walls to cover himself.  His critical reviews score big. His educated poetry defends against the long pass. As a poet, he belongs to the Difficult School, that briar patch established by Sir Geoffrey Hill, admired, but rarely entered, and when you get into it, you will die by scratches unless you exit with great difficulty—this is why Poe’s gardens were razed; to bad poets, everything is difficult, (even writing poetry), and therefore difficulty easily becomes a banner of the academic realm. The frowning briars are tenacious, like pride, and they are all that’s needed to keep the million flowers and their scents away.

Logan is not a bad poet, however; just one who is always looking over his shoulder. What if some offended poet intends a criticism as a form of revenge?  Logan’s poems dare not make a mistake; the dictionary is carefully consulted.

Because he is a good critic—agree, or not with him, he’s good—the law of aesthetics says Logan must be a good poet; poetry is what the critic in us writes. He seems to have decided contemporary poetry is mostly bad because it offends High Modernism; but where Pound was a critical crackpot, Logan is a critical lion; his defense of High Modernism has surpassed by great lengths what it ostensibly defends; he has forgot himself, gone into his humor and become a Poe (who, if read correctly, is funny; wit is criticism’s best weapon) or a Pope, or a Byron, and thank goodness he has! How dreary poetry would be today, without the prune and dance of William Logan.

Just as he escapes overrated High Modernism in his heated criticism, Logan occasionally escapes High Modernism in his poetry; but why he soars in criticism, and not in poetry, it is difficult to say. Perhaps his poetry is the diffident, abashed Dr. Jekyll to the criticism of his Mr. Hyde.  The split in Logan is artificial, since the natural split which once existed, between prose and verse, has closed up; the poets write in prose, too.  A hint of this truth is that when Logan writes formalist poetry, he’s much better.  He doesn’t want to sing so much in poetry, perhaps, because he doesn’t want to seem doubly odd: a Poe-like critic and a Poe-like poet.  He wants a little respectability, at least.

Logan is the no. 1 seed in the Life Bracket (the brackets are somewhat randomly named) and the line is from one of his formalist poems:

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

(It almost needs a comma after “then;” it is the pause right there that creates glory.)

It just so happens his opponent is Garrison Keillor. We found this by Keillor on FB:

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

There’s a greater aesthetic distance possible between two formalist lines than between any two lines of prose.  Have you noticed that?  The Keillor is delightful.  Starved for love, obsessed with sin, Sunlight almost did us in.

But Logan wins.

****

Danez Smith, the no. 2 seed in the Life Bracket, is a contemporary poet getting a lot of attention lately. His poetry doesn’t need verse. It has so much attitude.

“I call your mama mama”

Akhil Kaytal is also a contemporary poet who throws into poetry the best and funniest of what he finds.

“How long did India and Pakistan last?”

Attitude is really not about attitude. It’s about fact. “I call your mama mama” is a fact.  It’s not speculative.  The speculation naturally follows after. The speculation, the thinking, and the poetry, is implied. And this, really, sums up the respectable, contemporary, academic, vers libre view.

Is it really love when you call your lover’s mama mama? And when your imagination takes you far into the future, from where you ask one you loved if a little graffiti you made on a marble step is still there, you naturally want to know: How long did India and Pakistan last?

Danez Smith advances.

****

Divya Guha breaks our heart in ten seconds.

No, in ten words:

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

It doesn’t cry about the leaving—it discovers the leaving, which is better.

The contrast between the shaver (a device belonging to the body) and the laptop (a device belonging to a great deal else) is complex and effective. The “shaver missing” is the real blow; because of the sequence of things, we assume this is the first thing the poet notices that is gone, a device which is mundane—but intimates the domestic and the intimate—which makes the “gone too” poignant, if only because the “greedy” laptop can “hide” much more of a person, and whether it (or he) is gone, or not.

Guha, the third seed, tangles with Semeen Ali’s broader observation—also a discovery, and also poignant on a small scale:

“for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

Semeen Ali is the author, and we love the box-within-a-box-within-a-box aspect of her contribution. We think to ourselves, “how is it possible, really, that one minute contains a life?”  But the poet is very sly, because, after all, it is only “for a minute” this miraculous “minute” occurs.

Nine words by Semeen Ali against ten by Divya Guha.

We love both, but there is a little more happening with “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

Divya Guah will advance to the second round.

****

The sentiment expressed by the fourth seed, N Ravi Shankar, is overwhelming:

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

Who would write something like this, but someone very comfortable in their own skin?  Writing lovely poetry may only take one thing, and one thing, alone: don’t be uptight.

The pleasure evinced is such that it almost seems like wisdom.  Why is that?  When does the sensual become philosophy?  The great secret to this seems to hover within Shankar’s fond and rapturous lines.

Lily Swarn, another poet from India, counters with:

“The stink of poverty cowered in fear!”

This, too, has an uncanny strangeness about it.  It strikes us as marvelously original, as if the force of a personality, or the primitive cleverness of a god, were uttering divine poetry in a half-dreaming, prophetic trance.

The insouciant rhyme of “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby” gives it the edge.

R Ravi Shankar wins.

A lullaby roared by fans fills the arena.

****

Next:

Rupi Kaur v. Kim Gek Lin Short.

June Gehringer v. Alec Solomita

Marilyn Chin v. Stephen Cole

Sam Sax v. Dylan Thomas

 

CONCLUDING MARCH MADNESS MYSTERY BRACKET FIRST ROUND PLAY

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Meer Nair plays in the Mystery Bracket

Poetry charms us just as any other kind of speech does.  This should give us pause.  What is poetry, then?  How do we know we’re reading poetry?

In the First Round contest in the Mystery Bracket we have this, which is infinitely charming, though we are not really sure why:

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Michelina Di Martino is the poet.

Di Martino’s fans and supporters and followers resemble the followers of dionysus, which is to be expected. We cannot think of a more delirious meme than “Let us make love. Where are we?”  Frenzied acolytes make for a loud and enthusiastic fan base, which has to make Di Martino the favorite in this contest.

Her opponent is Meera Nair, who is a mother, a poet, and a movie actress.

Her is: “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

It is supremely beautiful—we could ponder this line for hours in a sweet fit of melancholy; the lake, as we will believe, will be drawn to the sea, and landscapes with both lake and sea invoke all the peace and longing we might expect when contemplating robust and watery nature as she lies upon the land.

If Di Martino thrills, as we contemplate unburdening ourselves in smoky, far off hills, Nair allows us to reflect in our rooms, with a window open to the air.  We consider things broad and wide, or trivial perhaps, concerning a lake, and gentle hills leading the watery confinement gurgling down to the sea.  We know Meera Nair’s fragment is poetry. We cannot be sure Michelina Di Martino’s is.  It is perhaps because the packed March Madness arena is filled with noise and confusion, and the warm, heart-rending screams of the crowd, that “Let us make love. Where are we?” wins.

****

Sukrita Kumar’s “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown” burns us with its mysterious wisdom.

What is known more acutely than fire? And what burns?  The unknown.  Everything is unknown to leaping flames. Unknown, the cavernous space filled with sparks, dark and cool above the conflagration which desperately attempts to warm and light our lives.

In stark contrast, Kushal Poddar’s: “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

What could be more different from “Flames are messengers,” a loud pronouncement from the god Vulcan, perhaps, words belonging to the center of the earth, roaring to us from the metal doors of old time? “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer” is the essence of affectionate, domestic tranquility, the lean cat eluding its kind master in the cooling shadows.

How to decide between these two states?

There is no time decide.  Only the impetuous result beneath the lights and clock in the old trembling arena of March Madness.

We smile when we read Kushal Poddar’s offering.  It warms our heart, and this warmth douses the flames.

Poddar will advance to the second round.

****

Ben Mazer is another demonstration that poetry’s force often lies away from whatever we commonly think of as poetry.  Mazer is the champion of a previous Scarriet March Madness, perhaps the greatest prize a poet today can claim.  Nobel? Pulitzer?  Everyone knows these prizes are political.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is the line the Mazer crowd wildly cheers from the rooftops of the Madness arena.

What is this poetic force that Mazer has?

There are so many ways for poetry to excel. But to excel, to stand out, to be regarded with awe, one must evince a quality, a mysterious quality, a strange combination of qualities, which teases the soul of the reader so they surrender almost immediately to the spell.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is all Mazer.  It is mesmerizing, but why?

We would venture to say that Mazer succeeds through the most profound introversion it is possible to evince.

The profound secret to Mazer’s success is simple.  The success is not simple, but the secret is.  And the secret is that Mazer proffers introversion to such an extreme degree, that the reader is disarmed, the reader’s blood pressure is reduced to near-zero, and in the resulting trance, the sweet poison is easily administered, and the spell effortlessly cast.

The great poet cannot be measured by rhymes, words, subject.  Or perhaps they can.  Anything can be quantified before the lynx eye.  But in this instance, as we contemplate the mystery that is the wonder of Mazer, we venture to say it is this: he is greater than nearly all of his peers in poetry (and any extreme in the realm of good taste can succeed in poetry) because his poetry is marked more by introversion than anyone else’s.

This is not to say that Mazer’s poetry cannot say bold or extroverted things.  It is the introverted life from which it comes which conquers.

One can see at once the advantage of introversion in poetry: the hush, the mystery, the unruffled beauty, the calm, the deep breathing, the concentration, the privacy, the reverie, the reverential, the quiet tension, the tender, abashed sinking into the unknown.

Mazer’s opponent is Nabina Das.  She has produced the for this bracket the one entry which might be intimates an actual mystery:

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

The future is blisteringly manifest: “where she later dangled.”  Or perhaps the dangling is done in fun?

We doubt it, for there is a menacing finality about the whole thing: “the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

The ambiguity would be more of a problem if the line were not so much fun in itself:

“Under the same” locks nicely into “ceiling fan from where” and the line travels straight up into the thin atmosphere of “she later dangled.”

It’s the kind of line which resembles a surfing wave—it belongs to nature almost as much as it belongs to ink:

“under the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

It is not introverted, by any means.  Not like this, anyway:

“her room retains the look of the room of a stranger”

Both lines could almost be from the same poem.  It is almost as if fate matched these lines in March Madness.

Both are neatly divided in two:

her room retains the look—of the room of a stranger.

under the same ceiling fan—from where she later dangled.

Both are masterpieces of aural architecture:

“room” and “look” and “room” from a group, as do “retains” and “stranger.”

“under” and “where she later” form a group, as do “same ceiling fan” and “dangled.”

It is too close to call.

Nabina Das defeats Ben Mazer!

Fans in the rooms are going crazy.

****

In the final, Mystery Bracket Round One contest, we have Richard Wilbur, and his famous “The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Richard Wilbur’s (1921-2017) opponent is Sridala Swami:

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

Richard Wilbur was a leading 20th century formalist, and we can see this in the exuberance of all those “a’s:” air, all, awash, angels. Not to mention the iambic pentameter: The MOR-ning AIR is ALL a-WASH with AN-gels.

Sridala is trying to do something quite different.

There are no angels. There is no morning air.

“There is only this book” and we are already post-modern, or is the a reference to what Dante, in his Vita Nuova, says is his “book of memory,” which creates the smaller book of his Vita Nuova?

Sridala’s line begins with three anapests: There is ON-ly this BOOK, and your ONE

And the caesura in the middle of the line is the spondee, ONE CHANCE—which is the perfect place to make a dramatic pause: you’ve got one chance, bub.

of SPEAK-ing to the WORLD is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

A long anapest: -ing to the WORLD, and then three iambs ends it: is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

If we read both lines aloud, we find both scan, the Wilbur with more concentrated force, but hers is equally strong, and more subtle.

Hers is speech within speech.  One chance.

His is the singularity of something supernatural, or perhaps merely descriptive, we see in, and around, the morning air.

Wilbur’s is more fanciful, but there is something beautifully somber and philosophically contemplative in Sridala Swami’s “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Sridala Swami wins.

 

Next up:  The Life and Beautiful Brackets.

MARCH MADNESS MYSTERY BRACKET PLAY CONTINUES

Image result for plato in painting

Often the most delightful mysteries occur when we find ourselves contemplating deeply what has always been there, in plain sight.

Hidden, it is off our radar, and has no chance to even be a mystery.

Mysteries intrigue and startle us most when we notice what previously escaped us, and was always in front of our nose.

As Shelley said, mystery can be “dear” to us, a source of delight, and even humor.

We usually associate mystery with a killer in the midnight, London, fog.

Mystery, however, may be our destiny and delight; the reason for the reason is the mystery.

A.E. Stallings, the no. 3 seed, a distinguished, formalist American poet who lives in Greece, presents a puzzle, a mystery indeed:

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

Plato equated the truly true with eternity—if it lasts, it’s true, and this seems to have influenced our March Madness no. 3 seed poet: “Perfection…could not be undone.”  This is why it’s “perfection”—nothing can remove it. But the joke, is “perfection” is a “blot.”  One thinks of a stain one cannot get out. (Lady Macbeth?)  Is Stallings hinting at moral justice?  The blot, or plot, that cannot be undone?  But the larger point is: perfection is equated with a blot.  Perfection, stays, but is imperfect.

The notion of perfection as a blot is funny—as well as profound. Didn’t we say mystery and humor are related?

Aakriti Kuntal, a young poet, is Stallings’ opponent in the Round One Mystery Bracket.

Kuntal is being funny, too, as she contemplates the nature of imagination.

To imagine is to see against our will—do we read imaginative works for what the writer has intended to imagine, or what they cannot help but imagine?

A genius could be involuntary—imagining what they do not want to imagine—and no one would think any less of their genius.

Kuntal directs the action:

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

The imagination of the poet “imagines the word,” and the word to the poet is that perfect blot—in this case, “jelly” and “mass.”

The complexity of Kuntal’s line is breathtaking. It makes you say to yourself: how could someone write this? It resembles a lecture on the physics of the poetic imagination.

First, deprive yourself of sight—a good advice for poets, for the poet is not a painter.

Second, imagine the word. More excellent counsel. Without sight, which the poet doesn’t need, the imagination succeeds poetically when it imagines not the world, but the word.

Third, since the first two steps are sufficient advice, having reached the limits of poetic imagination, self-consciousness begins; the poet is thrown back on herself, and naturally, as we “imagine the word,” we are stopped by a figure of speech—“the word is on the tip of my tongue.”

To get beyond a figure of speech, which blocks creative and original speech, the poet fastens on the word on the tip of the tongue—that is, speech itself, which the tongue represents.  To get past “imagine the word,” that is, turning the word into an image, which the word already is, in the poet’s imagination, we get over the hump of unoriginal speech (a figure of speech) and enter speech itself, the engine of poetic imagination.  There is no escape. Poetry, no matter how imaginative, is speech, and the tongue described is the tongue speaking.

Kuntal’s joke is even better than Stallings’ joke: “perfection” as a “blot.”

The word on the tip of the tongue—is the tongue!

“The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Poetry is a “mass” of words.  Poetry is that point when quivering words reach a critical “mass.”

Kuntal’s advice, or tip—“close your eyes and imagine the word” is “the red tip” of all the speech which follows.

Aakriti Kuntal wins, and advances to Round Two.

***

The fourth contest in the Mystery Bracket is the following:

Merryn Juliette “grey as I am”

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

The eye cannot help but see the fragment of a poem as a poem.

But what should the eye have to do with a poem?   Surely an eye’s illusion cannot touch the poem.

If we could have a shorter poem, we would—it concentrates our delight, and the secret of delight itself (as opposed to how long the delight lasts) is concentration of a bodily feeling. Even a slightly long poem does not exist.

A mystery cannot be nothing.  A mystery comes to be such just at that moment when nothing is left behind.

“grey as I am” transfixes us.

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

Spring fated to be the nightingale’s cage is wonderful.

But “grey as I am” wins.

The fragmentary context of the examination proper to Madness competition absolutely favors “grey as I am” in a manner which would go against the whole spirit of the fragment to explain.

It takes tremendous skill to be poetic for any length of time.  This is the law which actually benefits “grey as I am.”

Who knows that “grey as I am,” in the future, when all art is abstract art, and art only intrigues us as such, will not be considered by itself a great poem? Painting, so rich and engaging—think of the masterpieces of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries!—became Abstract Painting, and who knows the same thing will not happen, when all useless chatter ceases, to poetry?  And what finer example than “grey as I am?”

Merryn Juliette advances.

****

Coming up next in the Mystery Bracket:

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

THE MYSTERY BRACKET ROUND ONE, MADNESS ’19

Image result for ganges river in india

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.”

POETRY MARCH MADNESS 2019 ROUND ONE ACTION

One of the contestants in the Bold Bracket—Kolkata’s great poet, Joie Bose

In the Bold Bracket, first round play has been prefaced by some wild fans’ marches—the “Fan March” is a tradition in Scarriet’s March Madness Tournament.

The crowds for Diane Lockward’s “The wife and the dog planned their escape” is a woman’s march for the ages—thousands of women dressed as canines, carrying signs “Woman’s Best Friend,” topless women with signs, “Topple the Patriarchy!” We have never seen anything like it. “Bold First Seed, Woman is the First Seed! Go Diane!” scream many placards.

Diane’s opponent is sixteenth seeded Aaron Poochigian, a Classics professor who translates from Ancient Greek, and writes narrative verse—which sounds like contemporary prose—we don’t know how some poets manage this, but they do, rhyming only for themselves, not for me and you. But into the Madness comes this, beating its Homeric drums: “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.” Unfortunately, Homer did not write in English—attempting to write like this, Byron should be the model; if one is to jangle and jingle in a narrative, one must go about it self-consciously, and make a whimsical pact with the reader. This type of poetry will never work if you boss the reader around with Miltonic airs; Poochigian tells the reader to “hear” a “squeaking,”  a “squeaking” which sounds “like hinges,” while simultaneously telling the reader to “hear the Sirens calling,” a feminine rhyme (they are Sirens, after all) echoing “spalling.” The tone is pedantic, which is unfortunate, because the meter is really good—note all the wonderful trochees: “spalling, margin, squeaking, hinges, hear the, Sirens, calling.” He has a good ear; now Poochigian needs to let his hair down and have fun; drop the pretense and study Byron.

The Diane Lockward fans are relentless, mocking the use of the word, “spalling;” they feel Diane has nothing to fear from Poochigian’s nerdy and pretentious versifying—“The wife and the dog planned their escape” is accessible, thrilling, and nuanced—delightful as we imagine how a dog and a wife, as animal and human, might “plan” in secret to escape the husband.

Diane’s fans are right. She wins easily against  “hinges squeaking” “beyond the round world’s spalling margin.”

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” advances to the second round of play.

Also in the Bold bracket, No. 2 seed Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” clashes with Hoshang Merchant “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing.” The delight is the sweet resignation conveyed, even as “wild” is the adjective—a truly great line of poetry. But Sundan’s “red” has produced an uncanny originality and force; a transcendent urgency emboldens his red shirted followers into a frenzy; near-riots occur throughout the day outside the arena—the Riot Muse Police are called. Inside the arena, Aseem Sundan confidently wins.

In the third Bold Bracket contest, it is Menka Shivdasani “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.” versus Linda Ashok “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Both contestants evince the quotidian: Menka is cooking (dangerously?) and Linda is suggesting an appointment (dangerously?)  In both cases, women are daring us not to see them as ordinary; the strange or the threatening within a common circumstance threatens to happen, or merely happens to threaten. Do not take the woman, or any chore, or her day, or any action she might be doing, for granted. Linda Ashok’s is more interactive; it is less boastful, and more potentially thrilling—a sexual encounter which neither party will remember, or regret, is implied, but it could be any number of things the poet wants. Linda cools her opponent—and with cool concision, makes an appointment with victory. Linda Ashok moves onto the second round of play.

In our fourth Bold bracket game, It’s John Milton versus Edgar Poe.

Milton’s “Paradise Regained” excerpt is a paean to glory:

“Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

Poe used Milton’s “Paradise Lost” as his example when Poe issued his famous “a long poem does not exist” formula; Poe felt no fear in puncturing poets of reputation; and elsewhere he found fault with Milton’s abstractions and angels. Is this contest a chance for Milton to get his revenge?

The robed followers of Milton file into the March Madness library where they chant, while dreaming. They even sing Milton’s glory in vestibules. Some are dressed as angels, with play wooden swords. One sign says, “Long Poems Do Exist!”

Poe’s march is large and ebony-endowed. No zombies, vampires, or werewolves, because Poe did not actually write about such things. Good taste was everything to Poe. “Poe was murdered!” reads one placard. “Poe Has Been Slandered by the Literary Establishment as a Drunk and a Drug Addict!” Some hand out copies of Poe’s lovely and sober handwriting to repair the genius’s distorted reputation.

The game should be amazing. A few fights break out between Baltimore Ravens jerseys with a sign “Poe was Murdered in Baltimore! Re-open the Case!” and robed rebel angels. A beautiful woman dressed as Satan is arrested.

Poe: “Over the mountains/of the moon./Down the valley of the shadow”

Milton: “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

“Glory,” Milton says, is the only “reward” which “excites to high attempts” the “flame,” and “flame,” we assume, stands for “glory.” So “glory” is the only thing which “excites” “glory” to “glory?” Or is “flame” the human soul, or is it human aspiration? The whole thing does sound “glorious,” if a bit abstract. Milton’s iambic line defends the trochaic “glory” in terms of rhythm quite nicely.

Poe’s Bold bracket entry has an immediate, haunting quality, pure and soundless, despite its cry. Yet Milton’s bold flame and rhythm are also silently and scarily glorious.

Poe is more visually pleasing than Milton—“Glory” in the abstract cannot quite compete with mountains and shadow—and Poe’s rhythm is snakily titanic, as well.

Poe, as hell erupts, wins.

Daipayan Nair is matched up against Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” one of the boldest and best known lines in all of poetry.

Daipayan Nair is bold as well: “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Mr. Larkin states a pessimistic fact. Daipayan is not stating a fact, but it is true what he says; life is a long search in which we find neither our birth nor our death, though we always have a feeling we will. “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death” says this beautifully.

Daipayan Nair wins. Larkin’s followers throw papers about in the library in protest.

Joie Bose and Eliana Vanessa tangle with evocations which vibrate the throat and tickle the brain:

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

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

This is a clash in a singing cave. Criticism, to go and judge these women poets, must be sinning and brave.

Magic beauty from New Orleans (Eliana) and Kolkata (Joie) seethe in epic dimensions; color whips up in darkness.

Both of these make us wonder—love as fable, treasure, and darkness. The choice between “turning stones in the rain” and “listening to the hum of…skulls” is intriguing; there is no choice in “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love;” there is fable, treasure, and darkness, and the inevitable blending of the three. Is this more fantastic than the “hum of skulls” and “turning stones in the rain?” Criticism can hardly decide. Intoxicating odors linger from candles. The atmosphere is heavy. Fans can hardly see. They feel the contest on their skin. They doubt from start to finish. The game proceeds in waves.

Both Kolkata and New Orleans suggest the strange and the ambiguous, but “the fable” of Joie Bose finally has more coherence—and yet there is something about those wet stones and humming skulls.

Vanessa drowns Bose at the singing end, and moves to the second round. Scarves and weeping.

Robin Morgan is suffering from illness, and with a tenacity which puts fear in her opponents, she brings to the loud arena, “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Robin Richardson, her opponent in the First Round Bold Bracket, looks around to find what she is playing: it is both large and small.

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

Ambiguity versus ambiguity. One is very powerful. One is more hesitant, and says please.

Robin Richardson, in a wink, manages to destroy and create. She wins.

The final contest in the Bold Bracket features one name versus three, a living poet living out the ambiguity of her time against one certain, in the grave:

Walter Savage Landor thunders from the tomb, “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife” and Khalypso, doubtfully, “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

And, doubtfully, since all Madness must be so, Khalypso, in a flurry of gasps, wins.

 

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

Image result for battlefield in renaissance painting

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.”

****

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.”

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES. THOMAS HARDY VS. SUSHMITA GUPTA!!

Image result for thomas hardy in a pub

Utterly In Love  –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And I,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

 

The Man He Killed  –Thomas  Hardy

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

“I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe, of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like— just as I—
Was out of work— had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”

These are two sentimental poems, the first by a poet from India, who writes in English, little known in the United States, and the second by Thomas Hardy, (1840–1928) well known in the English speaking world as a novelist and poet.

Why we should even wonder why poetry is “sentimental,” or why poetry is censored for being “too sentimental,” says more about us as a race, currently, than about poetry. Sentimentality is really nothing more than inscrutability, or having profound feelings in the face of inscrutability. And when we stop to think about it, this is how we spend about 100% of our days—having feelings, in the face of what, to us, is inscrutable. Sentimentality is not only the rule—it is really just about all there is.

The pride of our education wants to say otherwise; we, in our scientific pride, pretend we know a great deal—though we don’t know how we fall in love, we don’t know where we came from, what made the world, where we are going after we die, the thoughts of others, and there is a great deal more we don’t know—a tiny part of which we learn in a day, and then quickly forget.

All respectable poetry production—since the mid-20th century—has been swallowed by the university. Learning is embarrassed by inscrutability, for obvious reasons. It is a simple, unspoken, defensive reaction: modern, academic poetry hates sentimentality. Education is uncomfortable with the inscrutable. The inscrutable and the sentimental are nearly the same.

But since human beings have feelings, and since we actually know (if we are honest) very little, sentimental is what we are—and to suppress this in our poetry, by making poems dry repositories of unsentimental events and facts, is sure to ruin poetry. And it has.

“The Man He Killed” is a favorite, despite its sentimentality, of modern critics—the mid-20th century New Critics’ textbook, Understanding Poetry, spotlights the poem for praise.

The poem is sentimental, however; Hardy admits that its subject—war—is completely inscrutable; the exasperated utterance Hardy uses is [how] “quaint and curious war is!” Men enlist out of boredom, or chance, and kill each other, dying for no reason at all. This is the sentimental theme. The school master, if they are anti-war, will teach this poem for the sake of a good conscience. Conscience, rather than wisdom, now drives the Humanities departments in college. Hardy, then, gets a pass, by the progressive college professor.

A sentimental objection to war satisfies the new academic urge. This sentimentality is allowed.

If one were to point out that statistics show that more deaths result from collecting debts (half-a-crown, or more) or from drinking and fighting “where any bar is,” than in armed conflicts, throughout  history, Hardy’s sanctimonious poem falls apart. It is too self-satisfied with its anti-war argument. The poem’s “sentimentality” is not the problem. Its argument is. The poem assumes men are good and war is bad. But in fact men are bad, and the reason why men are bad is inscrutable—Hardy escapes this uncomfortable fact—and sentimentalizes a hatred of war, while simultaneously taking the sentimental position that men outside of war are always friendly and good.

Or Hardy assumes they could be.

And this is at the heart of the poem’s sentimentality. Blokes savoring drinks with each other in pubs. Generals tell us to kill each other in war. “I would rather take my chances in a bar,” announces Hardy, deeply awash in sentimentality—and alcohol, perhaps.

Just so that is out of the way, we can now look at Gupta’s sentimental poem about love.

“Utterly In Love” is a poem of far more complex sentiment than Hardy’s—which basically says “instead of drinking with this bloke, I’m shooting at him! How absurd!”

Gupta is not mounting an argument against war, or anything the reader is expected to perceive as bad. She is truly sentimental, which is in her favor. She is not mixing some piece of impure intellectuality into her poem, as Hardy, the know-it-all, did.

The love of “Utterly In Love” is “secret,” but does not belong to “religion” or “revolution”—the speaker of the poem admits she has nothing to do with heavenly grace or earthly progress—hers is the love of a “mere mortal.”

Immortality, either from God, or from improving the lot of the human race, is not what she seeks, at least not overtly.

A poem is public, yet poems speaks of secret things, secret loves. Yet what is the most sacred and divine thing we feel, if not secret love?

Immortality is public—God recognizes you, or the human race builds you a monument for your revolutionary deeds.

But placing herself besides these two—religion or revolution—as a “mere mortal” with a “secret” love, the poet describes herself has having no identity whatsoever, going in a thoroughly opposite direction from an accomplished public figure. She is a “pool,” without even a shape. She is receptive, in her complete lack of will. And does this not describe the ultimate, pure, state of the true beloved? She is in a state to be formed by the one she secretly adores. This is psychologically true, since a secret crush makes us formless and helpless, with a desire that melts us. Perhaps we have no will, but the good thing is, we have no ego, either. We are ready to be a poet. We are purely and truly sentimental.

The poet wishes to be created—well, not quite—formed, by the secret love, and here’s the irony; the poet is creating herself, since she writes the poem. The poet becomes God, but this is only implied, not stated. And here’s a further irony, and even more delightful: if the poet is God, the secret love is God, who is forming her—so the more divine she is, as poet, the more divine the secret love is—so we have mutual true love, and the truth of it is expressed at the end of the poem, “And I…From loving you, Shall love you Even more.” The love increases, and is immortal. The mutuality of the lovers exists in the strongest terms, and the secrecy of the secret beloved of the poem enables the other to possibly be God—who is responsible for forming the poet—as well as the poem itself. Which makes God, who is the beloved, and the lover, and the poet, and the poem not “secret” at all—even as the secrecy is the agency which makes it possible to create the poem as a public document.

The winner: Sushmita Gupta.

Image may contain: 5 people, including Sushmita Gupta, people smiling, people standing, tree, outdoor and nature

 

 

 

 

 

MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS VS. ALGERNON SWINBURNE!! A MARCH MADNESS CONTEST FOR THE AGES!!

Image result for garden of proserpine

Algernon Swinburne was a decadent, mid-19th century, English aristocrat (Eton, Oxford), friends with the painter, and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and art critic, John Ruskin. We are told he was diagnosed with a condition in which physical pain produced sexual pleasure.

Searching online, we find this: Swinburne’s book (Poems and Ballads) “included vehement atheism, sado-masochism, cannibalism, and lesbianism. In fact Swinburne may have been the first to use lesbian in its modern meaning, in the poem ‘Sapphics.’ The book was a huge success, but led to a charge of indecency placed against the book.”

In life, we care about the cause. We want to know the origins and secrets of a person, or a plan, or an idea.

In poetry, we care only for the effect.

Since a poet and a poem exist in the world, curiosity about cause may cause us to read for cause, but if this spoils our comprehension of the effect, it spoils our appreciation of the poetry. And yet does not comprehension belong to cause?

In what manner does a poem introduce us to the poet—the real person?  What is a real person?

How much does this matter to us?

Can the poem make this not matter?

Does the poem hide the world, and its poet, and all which pertains to cause, to produce a better effect?

Or does the cause, the poet, and the world, always shine through the poem?

Here is “The Garden of Proserpine” by Swinburne:

Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.
 .
I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.
 .
Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.
 .
No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.
 .
Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.
 .
Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.
 .
Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love’s who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.
 .
She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.
.
There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.
 .
We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.
.
From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.
 .
Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.
 .
The first thing we notice is the dirge-like music, the calm, drugged delight which the verse produces. The second thing is the theme, which fits the calm, sad music—life is somewhere busy, but this place is sleepy. In this place (this poem with this kind of music) contemplation of sleep, and contemplation of death, makes us both satisfied and sad. The third, and final thing, is the monotony—there is no excitement, or climax, or glory—and again, this fits the theme—all is one enduring poetic sigh, without a real beginning or end.
.
The power of Swinburne’s poem is its three-part, self-reverential, aspect.
 .
We detect no person, or personality in this poem—but a certain philosophy is expressed; its stanza-oriented verse, and more importantly, its verse-music matching its philosophy, is chiefly where its artistry lies.
 .
Mary Angela Douglas is a living, Christian poet. Here is her poem, “I Wrote On A Page Of Light:”

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Unlike Swinburne’s poem, a transcendence is evinced in three interesting ways—the existence of the “page of light” itself, the movement of the poem from day to night, and back to day, and the writing on the page of light. Nowhere in the entirety of the Swinburne poem is there a trope like this.

Swinburne’s poem smells of rot, and the poem of Douglas does not.

“The Garden of Proserpine” almost has a definite smell.

“I Wrote On A Page Of Light” is on a different plane of consciousness and experience.

The poems could not be more different.

Swinburne’s poem is enchanting, but has a few passages where the verse is clumsy.

The poem by Mary Angela Douglas is far more modest, but is mystically perfect, in a crystalline sort of way.

The moral force of “I Wrote On A Page Of Light” is stronger.

“The Garden of Proserpine” depends on music for its effect, and if the message seems monotonous after a while, it is not because of the verse, which is often beautiful, but because of the defects in the verse, which occasionally mar the composition.

Folks, we have another upset in Scarriet March Madness!

Mary Angela Douglas wins!

MAD MAD MAD MARCH MADNESS! STEPHEN COLE VS. EMILY DICKINSON

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Two sentimental giants—Emily Dickinson and Stephen Cole—face off in the Fourth Bracket in more first round action.

BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH -Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

The soul of music (and poetry) is time.

Emily Dickinson’s famous poem, like most famous poems, has a temporal subject, which is best for poetry, the temporal art.

Dickinson, whose poetic instincts were extremely well-developed, despite the roughness, the awkwardness, and the melodrama inherent in her work, must have been thrilled when “Because I could not stop for death” fell into her brain.

The iambic rhythm marches forward and even this part is sublime: “Because I could not stop.”

This is what separates the masters from the scribblers.  Be CAUSE i COULD not STOP.

The phrase itself is a world—it signifies Emily Dickinson the prolific poet, who cannot stop writing, in terms of meaning, but also in terms of music—Be CAUSE i COULD not STOP.

And then the iambic gets one more foot—Be CAUSE i COULD not STOP for DEATH.  “DEATH” finishes the line (of course).  (But the poet will not stop for “DEATH.”)

And then, where most poets would give us a scary DEATH—“He suddenly stopped for me?” Dickinson writes, instead, “He kindly stopped for me.”  The “Civility” is the civility of poetry—which understands that “to stop” belongs to time, to music—the soul of ingenious verse.  Time (movement) continues to dominate the poem: “We passed the Setting Sun -”

Dickinson’s poem is its subject, quite literally.

There is a living poet, writing many poems today, Stephen Cole, who is a genius in the manner of Emily Dickinson—and we can only hope that one day Stephen Cole will be read as widely as she is.

WAITING -Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

The genius of Cole’s poem, like “Because I Could Not Stop For Death,” lives within the words of the poem itself, timeless and sublime.  It is not, like most poems, a poem “about something,” which forces an emotional recognition in the reader. To some degree, all poems boil down to a piece of life resonating in the reader’s experience.

Some poems, however, like “Waiting,” open up new vistas of sweet pondering.

Dickinson’s “Death” is, “She” in Cole’s poem.

Cole’s poem, “Waiting,” unfolds in our minds as a philosophical event—we are not just “hearing a story.”

As in Dickinson’s poem, a profound causality takes wing.

Instead of “because I could not stop…”  we get the pregnant phrase, “I believe if She were here”

And we feel “She” is right, because the sound “are” echoes in “departing” —“the cold winds are departing.”

They are.  And it is all the more forceful, because of the poet’s respect, focus, and humility: “I believe if she were here she would tell me”…with her “message delivered thoughtfully…if only I was listening.” (!)

She has given him hope. She is absent. He is crushed, humbled—all this conveyed forcefully in a few lines!

The theme continues as powerfully, and gracefully, as it began:

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

How wonderful: “The void filled, recognized, for what it lost”—a void recognized for what it lost (he losing her?) and then “Otherwise it could not be filled.” (!)

A philosopher and a poet, both, this Stephen Cole!  And a warm philosopher, not a cold one.

“The rules are absent by rules.”  This sums up what has gone before, as philosophy continues to tease out the poetry.

The end of the poem is fantastic.  “She” (and we would expect this) owns the “proper need.”

The “long, long day” is both generous and sad—and “sidereal secrets” swings the poem’s movement towards the stars, rather than the sun—“she” is “absent,” but her influence—due to absence (the far stars, invoked by “sidereal”)—is profound.

A simple poem. A humble poem. A remarkable poem.

Are these two poems sentimental?

Cole’s poem has great understated emotion: we feel an exquisite humility in the poem.  Humility always suppresses loud, showy, drum-beating emotion—even within a dramatic scene.

Dickinson’s poem does do a better job of presenting a visual scene—the “swelling of the ground” compared to a “house,” for instance.

Is Dickinson personifying death sentimental?  Some would say, yes, because it’s a distancing, fanciful, trope to stave off anxiety.

Viewing graves and counting the years is not sentimental, but turning Death into a gentleman, is.

The passage of time, however—death as the imposition of large time (“immortality, eternity”) upon a mortal, who is dead—carries (the carriage?) Dickinson’s poem—the final image is “the horses’ heads were toward eternity.”

Cole invokes the same feeling and idea—and even more mystery—with his “sidereal secrets.” A brilliant stroke.

“Because I Could Not Stop For Death” is accessible and picturesque, one of the most iconic poems ever written.

“Waiting” is a more subtle, brooding masterpiece.

OMG!

Cole wins in an upset!

 

WHITMAN VS. MAZER—THE SENTIMENTAL POETRY MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES

 

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The sentimental, as this 2018 March Madness Poetry tournament is finding out—as poems smash into each other in the particle accelerators of Scarriet’s aesthetic criticism—refers to any emotion at all, even anger.

Emotion, which the Modernists sought to distance themselves from—because the Victorians and the Romantics were too emotional in their poetry—is the beating heart of any poem; the poem cannot survive without emotion.

Are poems truth, as in scientific truth?  Even those who hate emotion, would not make such a claim (it would be an emotional one).

So if poems are not scientific documents, what are they?  They are sentimental documents—as much as feeling can be registered in a scientific (aesthetic, philosophical, psychological) manner.

The Modernists were fashionably reactive, but rather bankrupt philosophically and critically—the New Critics’ objected shrilly to the relevance of  the reader’s emotional response to a poem (yes, poems may make us feel something, they conceded, but this was not as important as the objective description of the poem as a thing).

T.S. Eliot, the father of New Criticism, famously  called poetry an “escape from emotion,” but he was confusing Poe’s formula that verse was 90% mathematical and 10% moral.

Poems can certainly be written, as Wordsworth said, in “tranquility,” even as powerful feelings flow between poet and reader.

The poem itself is not emotional.

The whole question of “escaping” emotion, or counting emotions bad in a poem, the way emotions are bad if one loses one’s temper in real life, is besides the point.

The mathematical is not emotional, and verse is largely mathematical—even prose poetry relies on rhythm, which is music, which is math.

But should the poet invent, and impart, emotion as part of the poem’s effect?

Yes, and this is a truism.

Aristotle says emotions can be “purged” by poetry. Aristotle was arguing with Plato, and looking for a way to praise emotions, but the “purging” idea is incomplete.  Let’s say a poem elicits disgust—how does this “purge” anything?  Does this mean we will never feel disgusted, again?  Of course not.  The poem has given us a feeling of disgust where there was none before, and whenever we remember the poem, we are disgusted.

The emotional content of a poem can include some “bad” emotions—fear or sorrow, for instance—disgust should probably be avoided altogether, but even disgust may be used, sparingly, perhaps—but the poem itself should do more than just produce an emotion, or a combination of emotions; the emotions of the poem must be accompanied with—what?  And here’s the mystery; here’s what the poet must decide with each poem.  All we know is that every poem should be highly sentimental, in the old, less pejorative, meaning of the term.

In the Fourth Bracket, the Sushmita Bracket, we feature some living poets, who don’t give a damn what contemporary critics think, and find joy and weeping in the poetic euphoria of grand, old, high sentiment.

Ben Mazer—one of the greatest living poets (tell us how he is not)—gives us a poem burning on emotional jet fuel.

As we have said, the “emotion” of a person and the “emotion” of a poem are two different things.

Personal emotion could indeed be something we would want to “escape” from, to tamp down, to control, etc.

A poem, however, understands no such social limits or niceties.

The more the poet understands this crucial distinction, the better the poet will be; those who do not understand this distinction produce poetry which is either purely dull, or purely offensive.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

The famous poem by Walt Whitman is Mazer’s opponent.  We copy the first stanza.

O Captain! My captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red.
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Many know and admire this poem, and Walt Whitman was embraced by the moderns—Pound put out a hand to Whitman (while ignoring Poe, and other important figures of the 19th century.)

Those who admire Whitman’s poem, when pressed, would probably not remember “But O heart! heart! heart!/O the bleeding drops of red.”

What respectable poet writes anything like this today?

And yet, “O Captain! My Captain!” is a great poem, a powerful poem, a memorable poem, with a wonderful rhythm—if Whitman had checked himself and said, “I can’t write nonsense like O heart! heart! heart!” who doubts but that the poem would never have seen completion, would never have been written at all?

The only drawback to Whitman’s poem is that it exhausts its theme in the first stanza, and the next two stanzas merely recapitulate the first.  It is a bold and lovely poem, however.

Ben Mazer, similarly, pours on the sentimentality in his poem—the poet is vulnerable in the extreme.  The hysterical and desperate nature of the poem is announced at once, with, “I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife.”  This alone, marks the poem as genius, and then Mazer presents the searing, simple words of an actual, intimate conversation, which adds to the drama, and then Mazer ends the poem with a direct, emotional plea at the highest possible pitch.

Mazer’s poem has four parts, with the poet’s position never wavering—the first part announces the setting and situation, the second part features a dialogue, the third part presents a key, yet hopeless turn in the dialogue, “I wish that it were true,” and in the last part, the poet seeks divine assistance, after beginning the poem with a reference to earthly power.

There’s no crying in poetry?

Yes there is.

Mazer wins.

SHELLEY VS. LEAR IN THE TENNSYON BRACKET

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Admit it.  You love good sentimental poetry.

“The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear is sentimental and lovely.

But what of Lear’s opponent in the first round?

Shelley’s political poem, “England 1819” may not be considered “sentimental.”

Let’s consider if it is, since this tournament is as much about ‘what is sentimental poetry?’ as it is about sentimental poetry.

“The Owl and the Pussycat.”  Surely this is sentimental, if anything is.

The first stanza is as follows:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

The poem is extremely musical—but music, as we all know, is mathematical (“runcible spoon” in the final stanza is verse-math genius)—is mathematics sentimental?

The poem is also a fantasy—it depicts the unreal. We all know feelings are strongest when they pertain to real life. Is the unreal sentimental?

The poem aspires to beauty–and all beauty has something cold about it.

And finally, Lear’s poem also has a certain archness; a whiff of the comic.  Is comedy sentimental?

So is “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” really as sentimental as all that?

If this poem calms and amuses us, and does not evoke strong feelings, perhaps it is not sentimental.  Unless we take the song of the owl seriously.

Shelley’s poem, on the other hand, is meant to generate strong feelings—doesn’t revolutionary fervor, the righting of great wrongs, require strong feelings?

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th’ untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

Which poem has greater feeling—the child-like poem by Lear, or the grown-up poem by Shelley?

Shelley writes of his own government—its brutality, its genocidal horror, its wrong, all very real to Shelley, the poet.  Had the poem been published while he lived, Shelley would have been thrown into prison.

Lear sings of an owl singing a love song to a cat on a boat under the moon.

Those, today, finding Shelley’s poem implausible and unfair, might label it “sentimental.”

Those not amused by Lear’s poem would probably call it the same—“sentimental.”

In the first instance, “sentimental” would mean “untrue.”

In the second instance, “sentimental” would mean “trivial.”

No one would call Shelley’s poem “trivial,” and no one would feel the need to point out that Lear’s poem was “untrue.”

Shelley’s poem is sentimental in attempting to call out a truth.

Lear’s poem is sentimental in murmuring a lie.

Both are beautiful poems.

Most would assume Lear’s poem is highly sentimental, and that Shelley’s poem is not sentimental at all.

Anger is never considered sentimental, and Shelley is angry.

Lear is certainly not angry.

The softer emotions are considered sentimental.

But anger is sentimental.

Shelley wins.

A stunning upset!

 

MARCH MADNESS—SENTIMENTAL WRESTLE BETWEEN LORD BYRON AND SIR JOHN SUCKLING

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In the Blake Bracket—a contest between Sir John Suckling and Lord Byron—“Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover?” and “When We Two Parted.”

Both poems are about love, and sticking to it—or not.

Why are there so many love poems in the old days?

The ‘Dante explanation’ is that the origin of poetry was the phenomenon of high religion moving outward in Letters (religion the only real Letters there was at the time) to the less learned.

The ‘more learned’ were, in this case, men, and the ‘less learned’ were, in this case, women.

Poetry was, in its origins, to put it bluntly, sexual/religious indoctrination of women by men, or, as it is known today, “mansplaining.”

The poetry which survived as the best models of this practice was exactly as one might expect—the poems of poets like Dante and Petrarch, and later the Elizabethan poets—appalling expressions of sexual excitement elevated to religious ecstasy, and masked by language which evoked serene, pure, delicate religiosity.

This type of poetry naturally died a quick death when manners changed, and men and women lost interest in poetry as the expression of love masked as religion and religion masked as love.

But the trope was powerful—the elevated language of poetry, the beautiful language of poetry, served two things at once—1. religion in the outward manner and 2. sex in the hidden, or private manner.

Modern poetry has no ready-made duality, the kind which naturally existed, and attended the origin of poetry itself, when religious letters spread out into the secular sphere.

Modern poetry has everything and nothing.

Modern poetry lacks manners, since manners no longer need to hide what religion is doing. Modern poetry even lacks sex, because without manners, hiding of any kind is no longer necessary—even as real life hides from the poet all the time.  Real life isn’t codified—there’s no template—in modern poetry; looking around for its new poetic identity, Modernism seized on objects (Imagism) and quickly turned into a dreadful bore; modern poetry was kept alive in the tedious textbook; poetry was no longer profound/dirty or high/low; poetry was now democratic and plain; the public turned to Sinatra and Elvis and the Beatles—the Dante trope didn’t die at all.

The Dante trope was not really killed by the Modernists.  The Modernists today still don’t understand the power of love poetry—and sneer at it, as romantic drivel.  And most of it is romantic drivel, because the learned don’t write love poetry anymore.  They write modernist drivel, instead.  The learned alone will always be boring.  We look back at the learned Dante and don’t see the excitement, because secular, over-sexed modernism is incapable of seeing the beauty because they no longer understand what the beauty was for—to hide what back then was filthy and forbidden; the priests using religion for sex, Dante following Beatrice into heaven because that’s the only place he could follow her.

Modern poetry has neither heaven nor the unspeakable desires—which are now commonplace.

Love poetry was popular for a reason.

The Renaissance—think of Shakespeare’s Sonnets—saw ‘love poetry’ as more than boy writes girl—but sex was always the underlying thrill, the secretly sexual/religious, thrilling trope in the days of priests and virgins.

In Shakespeare’s Sonnets, you had a lot of ‘man giving boy advice about love,’ and that’s what we get with this Sir John Suckling chestnut:

Why so pale and wan fond lover
Prithee why so pale?
Will, when looking well can’t move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee why so pale?

Another reason for the great number of love poems back in the day arises as we contemplate these few lines: poetry was too effeminate a practice for men—unless poetry concerned itself, in an almost joking, or advice-giving manner, with love, and love’s effeminate traps and weaknesses. Men wanted to write poetry, and couldn’t, because it wasn’t manly, unless the slightly respectable trope of courting women (love) was made present.

Only a “pale” fop wrote verse—unless one were a clever knight (or aspiring playwright) who made it his business to trade in the trope from a knowing perspective.

Suckling is quite modern compared to Dante—in speaking of his reluctant Beatrice—or his friend’s Beatrice, in this case—Suckling ends his poem, “the devil take her.” Yikes!

Dante would be appalled.

Byron, a modern compared to Dante and Suckling, returns to a simpler, more purely romantic sensibility; the Romantics knew the Dante trope had “legs,” had staying power; the sophisticated, renaissance knight can be as clever as he wants, but love will always be love, and it hurts, and hell if it’s still not good for poetry.

Byron’s poem surveys the wreckage of the Dante trope—as he invests in it like crazy.

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sank chill on my brow–
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell in mine ear;
A shudder come o’er me–
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well–
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met–
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?–
With silence and tears.

Byron, the modern, almost seems like he’s mourning not so much the woman, with all his religious bells and sorrow, but the modern ruination of the old trope.

Suckling, writing in the 17th century, is having more fun.

Sir John wins.

MARCH MADNESS 2018 —SENTIMENTAL AND WORTHY

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This year’s Scarriet 2018 March Madness Tournament is a contest between great sentimental poems.

We use Sentimental Poems because sentimentality in the United States has long been seen as a great fault in poetry.

It is necessary we bring attention to a crucial fact which is so obvious many overlook it: In the last 100 years, it is considered a virtue for the poet to avoid sentimentality.

But poetry does not belong to the factual.

Ever since Socrates pointed out that Homer wasn’t trustworthy when it came to chariots, law, war, or government, the fact that poetry is not factual has been understood and accepted.

As science grew in stature, it was only natural that Plato was seen as more and more correct—science, the eyes and ears of discovery, made the imagination of lyric song seem feeble by comparison.  Entertainment, Plato feared, could take the place of truth—and destroy society, by making it tyrannical, complacent, sensual, and blind.

Plato’s notion, to put it simply, triumphed.

Homer was no longer considered a text book for knowledge.

Poetry was just poetry.

Religion and science—one, an imaginative display of morals, the other, an imaginative display of reason, became the twin replacements of poetry for all mankind.

Poetry still mattered, but it belonged to entertainment and song, the frivolous, the sentimental—as much as these matter, and they do.  The sentimental was not considered a bad thing, but it was never confused with science. Nor was poetry confused with religion. Religion, with its unchanging sacred texts, was society’s moral guide; a poem springs up suddenly in a person’s mind, a fanciful thing, a piece of religion for the moment—not a bad thing, necessarily, but ranked below science and religion.

Poetry sat on the sidelines for two thousand years.  Homer made it glorious, Plato killed it, and then Science and Religion, for a couple of millennia, were Homer’s two important substitutes.

For two thousand years poetry was sentimental, not factual.

Religion bleeds into poetry (quite naturally) —Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton—and in the rival arts, painting, and music—helps religiosity (high sentiment) to thrive and not be overthrown by science (fact).

Music and painting were especially glorious—we use the word without irony—(and religious) during the Renaissance, becoming almost scientific; musicians like Beethoven proved music is more than entertainment—it enriches the soul as much as religion.  Plato would certainly have approved of Bach and Beethoven, if not Goya and Shelley.

Poetry crept back into good standing (since being dethroned by Plato) through religion’s back door—as religion—especially during the Enlightenment and the 19th century—became more and more disgraced by science.

Modernism changed all that.

In the beginning of the 20th century, poetry (together with painting and music) decided it didn’t need religion or science.

Perspective (the mathematics of seeing), which developed in Renaissance painting, is science.

Cubism, Collage, (2-dimensional fragments) and Abstract painting’s color-mixing do not constitute scientific advancement.

Speech and versification enhance each other in poets like Pope and Byron—this has a certain scientific validity—poetry dribbling off into awkward prose, as it pretends to “paint” an “image,” does not.

Verse exists as written music.   Verse, like music, is a system of notation.  Beethoven’s notes do not float around experimentally on the page—Beethoven’s genius exists both in the notation, and in what the notation projects, with the sound of musical instruments. Beethoven’s genius also lies largely in the realm of the sentimental. Which is not a bad thing at all. Sentimentality occupies the battle-ground middle between religion and science—the genius of the modern is found more in artists like Beethoven and Byron, than in the more self-conscious “modernist revolution” of the 20th century—which was largely a step backwards for art and poetry, as talkers like Ezra Pound and John Dewey gained ascendancy.

Here’s an example of the pseudo-science which infested 20th century Modernism: Charles Olson’s idea that poetry is expressed as “breath,” and can be notated as such, on the page.  Yes, people breathe as they read verse, but “the breath” has nothing to do with verse in any measurable way.  A sigh is dramatic, sure. But a sigh isn’t scientific. Yet no one laughed at Olson’s idea. Modernists took it seriously.

And here in 2018, in the wake of Modernism with its sharp-pointed, experimental, unscientific irreverence, poets continue since 1900 to frown on anything sentimental, associating it with flowery, Victorian verse—when the sentimental belongs to the genius of great poetry.

Poetry is sentimental.

Bad poetry is sentimental only because all poetry is sentimental.

The damaging mistake Modernism made, dumping anything pre-1900, in its pursuit of the non-existent “new” (never really described or defined) was the insistence that sentimentalism was bad.

It was a logical mistake, as we have just shown: all poetry (since Socrates knocked off Homer) is sentimental, not factual; Modernism’s childish, fake-science, tantrum against the sentimental was a gambit against religion, which was already collapsing before the advent of science.

Modernism did not embody scientific glory—unless skyscrapers as architecture belong to science.

The 20th century engineers and physicists (far closer to Leonardo da Vinci than William Carlos Williams) were scientific; religion lived on in the lives of the poor, even as Nietzsche-inspired, 20th century professors said God was dead; and meanwhile the Modern poets dug themselves into a hole—rejecting religion, while proudly beating their chests (Modernism’s crackpot identity was male) before the idol of pseudo-science. Modern poetry fell into oblivion, where it still exists today—secular, unscientific, unsentimental, unmusical, without a public, or an identity.

Sentimental poetry did live on throughout the 20th century—poetry is sentimental, after all.  It continued to thrive, in popular music, but as poetry, it mostly thrived beneath the Modernist headlines.

To highlight this argument, Scarriet’s 2018 March Madness Tournament will feature great sentimental poetry.

Before we start, we’d like to define the issue in more detail.

We do not assert that mawkish, simplistic, hearts-and-flowers, unicorns-and-rainbows, poetry is good.

But tedious, pedantic, dry, prosaic poetry is not good, either.

We simply maintain that all poetry, and the very best poetry, is sentimental, rather than factual—despite what Modernist scholars might say.

It is necessary to point out that verse is not, and cannot, as verse, be somehow less than prose, for verse cannot be anything but prose—with the addition of music.

Verse, not prose, has the unique categorical identity which meets the scientific standard of a recognizable art, because verse is prose-plus-one.  Verse is prose and more.  Here is the simple, scientific fact of verse as an identifying category, which satisfies the minimal material requirements of the category, poetry.

The objection can be raised that the following two things exist

1. prose and

2. prose which has a poetic quality, but is not verse

and therefore, poetry can exist without verse.

But to say that prose can be poetic while still being prose, is really to say nothing at all; for if we put an example of prose next to prose-which-is-poetic, it only proves that some prose writing samples are more beautiful than other prose writing samples.

This still does not change this fact: Verse is prose-plus-one.  Prose can be enchanting for various reasons; it can have a greater interest, for example, if it touches on topics interesting to us—but the topic is interesting, not the prose; the content of prose can have all sorts of effects on us—secondly, and more important, prose can certainly appeal for all sorts of sensual reasons, in terms of painting and rhythm and sentiment, and this is why we enjoy short stories and novels. But again, verse is all of this and more; verse is, by definition, prose-plus-one.

To repeat: Verse is more than prose. Prose is not more than verse.

What do we mean, exactly, by sentimental?  Isn’t there excellent verse which is not sentimental at all?  No, not really, if we simply define sentimental as the opposite of factual.

We might be confused here, because a fact can be sentimental; a simple object, for instance, from our past, which has associations for us alone—there it is, a souvenir, a fact which can move us to tears.

Just as verse is prose-and-more, the sentimental is fact-and-more.  Poetry adds sentiment to the fact.

Here are two examples of good poems, and because they are poems, they are sentimental; they are not sentimental because they are good, or good because they are sentimental.  The sentimental is a given for the poem. And because facts come first, and sentiment is added, poems use facts, even though poems are not factual.

Think of Byron’s famous lyric, “We Shall Go No More A Roving.”  The sentiment is right there in the title. “No more!” Something we did together which was pleasantly thrilling will never happen again.  

If this Byron lyric not sentimental, nothing is.   But we can state its theme in prose.  The sentimentality can be glimpsed in the prose, in the preface, in the idea.  The verse completes what the prose has started.

Facts, and this should not be surprising, do a lot of the work in sentimental poetry.  One of the things which makes Byron’s gushing lyric gloriously sentimental, for instance, is the fact that it is not just I who shall “go no more a roving,” but we shall “go no more a roving.” This is a fact, and the fact contributes to the sentimentality; or, it might be argued, the sentimentality contributes to the fact.

Carl Sandburg, born in 1878, got his first break in 1914 when his poems were accepted by Poetry, the little Modernist magazine from Chicago—where Sandburg was raised. Sandburg was initially famous for his “hog butcher for the world” poem about Chicago, but the Modernists (including the academically influential New Critics) withdrew their support as Sandburg gained real fame as a populist, sentimental poet. Sandburg even became a folk singer; his poem “Cool Tombs” was published in 1918, and you can hear Sandburg reading this masterpiece of sentimentality on YouTube—and you can hear Sandburg singing folk songs on YouTube, as well.  What is sentimental about a “cool tomb,” exactly?  Is it the sound-echo of “cool” and “tomb?” The sentimental in poetry proves the sentimental is not always a simple formula.

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” might be preferred by Moderns, because on the face of it, this poem doesn’t seem very sentimental at all.  Shelley’s poem is factual: a traveler sees a ruin. Shelley describes the facts as they are—here’s what the traveler sees.  But upon reflection, one recognizes how powerful the sentiment of the poem is—a great thing existed, and is now gone.  And yet, what is gone was evil, and the poem mocks its loss, and the final image of the poem is simply and factually, “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

However, and we don’t need to push this point more than necessary, the whole power of Shelley’s poem is sentimental.  The fact of the statue, half-sunken in the sands of a desert, is just that—a fact.  Were it only this, the fact would not be a poem—all poems, to be poems, must be sentimental; the sentiment is added to the fact.

The poet makes us feel the sentimental significance of the fact; this is what all poems do.

And now to the Tournament…

Our readers will recognize quite a few of the older poems—and why not?  The greatly sentimental is greatly popular.

Most will recognize these poems right up through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

The half-dozen poems composed more recently, in the fourth and final bracket, will not be as familiar, since sentimental examples of verse no longer get the attention they deserve; we bravely furnish them forth to stand with the great sentimental poems of old.

“Sentimental” by Albert Goldbarth is not actually sentimental; the poem is more of a commentary on sentimentality by a pedantic modern, in the middle of the modern, anti-sentimental era.

“A Dog’s Death” may be the most sentimental poem ever written, and it comes to us from a novelist; as respectable poets in the 20th century tended to avoid sentimentality.

The poems by Sushmita Gupta, Mary Angela Douglas, Stephen Cole, and Ben Mazer we have printed below.

The great poems familiar to most people are sentimental—at the dawn of the 20th century, sentimentality was unfortunately condemned.

Here are 64 gloriously sentimental poems.

Old Sentimental Poems—The Bible Bracket

1. Western Wind –Anonymous
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd –Old Testament
3. The Lie –Walter Raleigh
4. Since There’s No Help, Come Let Us Kiss and Part –Michael Drayton
5. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love –Christopher Marlowe
6. That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In My Behold –William Shakespeare
7. Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies –William Shakespeare
8. Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss –Thomas Nashe
9. The Golden Vanity –Anonymous
10. Death, Be Not Proud –John Donne
11. Go and Catch A Falling Star –John Donne
12. Exequy on His Wife –Henry King
13. Love Bade Me Welcome –George Herbert
14. Ask Me No More Where Jove Bestows –Thomas Carew
15. Il Penseroso –John Milton
16. On His Blindness –John Milton

Newer Sentimental Poems—The Blake Bracket

1. Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover? –John Suckling
2. To My Dear and Loving Husband –Anne Bradstreet
3. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars –Richard Lovelace
4. To His Coy Mistress –Andrew Marvel
5. Peace –Henry Vaughan
6. To the Memory of Mr. Oldham –John Dryden
7. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard –Thomas Gray
8. The Sick Rose –William Blake
9. The Little Black Boy –William Blake
10. A Red, Red Rose –Robert Burns
11. The World Is Too Much With Us –William Wordsworth
12. I Wandered Lonely As  A Cloud –William Wordsworth
13. Kubla Khan –Samuel Coleridge
14. I Strove With None –Walter Savage Landor
15. A Visit From St. Nicholas –Clement Clarke Moore
16. When We Two Parted –George Byron

Still Newer Sentimental Poems—The Tennyson Bracket

1. England in 1819 –Percy Shelley
2. To ___ –Percy Shelley
3. Adonais–Percy Shelley
4. I Am –John Clare
5. Thanatopsis –William Cullen Bryant
6. To Autumn –John Keats
7. La Belle Dame sans Merci –John Keats
8. Ode to A Nightingale –John Keats
9. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways –Elizabeth Barrett
10. Paul Revere’s Ride –Henry Longfellow
11. Annabel Lee –Edgar Poe
12. Break Break Break  –Alfred Tennyson
13. Mariana –Alfred Tennyson
14. The Charge of the Light Brigade –Alfred Tennyson
15. My Last Duchess  –Robert Browning
16. The Owl and the Pussy Cat –Edward Lear

Even Newer Sentimental Poems—The Sushmita Bracket

1. O Captain My Captain –Walt Whitman
2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Emily Dickinson
3. The Garden Of Proserpine –Charles Swinburne
4. The Man He Killed –Thomas Hardy
5. When I Was One and Twenty  –A.E. Housman
6. Cynara –Ernest Dowson
7. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  –T.S. Eliot
8. Not Waving But Drowning  –Stevie Smith
9. Nights Without Sleep –Sara Teasdale
10. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed –Edna Millay
11. Sentimental –Albert Goldbarth
12. Dog’s Death –John Updike
13. Utterly In Love –Sushmita Gupta
14. I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas
15. Waiting –Stephen Cole
16. Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

Utterly in Love –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And me,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Waiting –Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

NOVEMBER 2017. THE SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100.

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1) Sushmita Gupta— When the waves lashed and the clouds loomed and I was alone.

2) Diane Seuss— I could do it. I could walk into the sea!

3) Rachel  McKibbens— as you lie still within the soft forgotten witch of your body

4) Daipayan Nair— The maker of a house carries its hardness.

5) Eminem— The best part about me is I am not you.

6) Sharon Olds—  I had not put it into words yet, the worst thing

7) Natasha Trethewey— two small trout we could not keep.

8) Billy Collins— The name of the author is the first to go

9) Terrance Hayes— but there are tracks of your syntax about the land

10) Robert Pinsky— The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

11) Bob Dylan— How does it feel?

12) Dan Sociu— the quakes moving/ for nothing, under uninhabited regions. (trans. Ana-Maria Tone)

13) Ben Mazer— Mother then/I am your son/The King.

14) Denise Duhamel— Ken wants to feel Barbie’s toes between his lips

15) Molly Fisk—  Then someone you love. And then you.

16) Sherman Alexie— They were common people who believed only in the thumb and the foot.

17) Jorie Graham— the infinite finding itself strange among the many

18) Charles Simic— Have you found a seat in your room/For every one of your wayward selves?

19) Louise Glück— In her heart, she wants them to go away.

20) Richard Howard— inspired by some wag’s verbose variations on the theme of semi-porn bric-a-brac

21) Donald Hall— so that she could smell the snowy air.

22) Stephen Cole— For the knowing heart the known heart cannot know.

23) Laura Kasischke— as if the worship of a thing might be the thing that breaks it.

24) Mary Ruefle— the dead borrow so little from the past.

25) Tony Hoagland— Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.

26) Kevin Young— a freshman, I threw/a Prince party, re-screwed/ the lights red & blue

27) Maxine Beneba Clarke— penny lane/on the Beatles trail/all the locals say and they nod/as if for sure they know/our tourist game

28) Carolyn Forché— What you have heard is true.

29) Mary Jo Bang— A plane lit down and left her there.

30) Dan Beachy-Quick— Drab bird unseen in the dark dark’s underbrush

31) Carl Dennis— Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.

32) Christian Wiman—  Do you remember the rude nudists?

33) Stanley Plumly— I clapped my hands just for the company.

34) Major Jackson— All seeing is an act of war.

35) Gary B. Fitzgerald— A life is gone and, hard as rock, diamonds glow in jet black skies.

36) Mary Angela Douglas—  the larks cry out and not with music

37) A.E. Stallings— From the weeds of the drowned.

38) Joe Green—  the teacup is filled with the eyelashes of owls

39) Dorianne Laux—  It’s tough being a guy, having to be gruff and buff

40) Collin Yost— I’ll love you when you’re mad at me

41) Rupi Kaur— Don’t tell me my women aren’t as beautiful as the ones in your country

42) Wendy Cope— The planet goes on being round.

43) Warsan Shire— when the men come, set yourself on fire.

44) Savannah Brown— Hi, I’m a slut. What?!

45) Brenna Twohy— My anxiety is a camera that shows everyone I love as bones

46) Lily Myers— My mother wanes while my father waxes

47) Imani Cezanne— Addiction is seeking comfort in that which is destroying you.

48) Ada Limón— What’s left of the woods is closing in.

49) Olivia Gatewood— resting bitch face, they call you

50) Vincent Toro—  This island like a basket/of laundry 

51) Koraly Dimitriadis— the day I moved out, I took my wedding dress to mum’s house

52) Nayuka Gorrie— I lose it and find it and lose it again.

53) Hera Lindsay Bird— Keats is dead so fuck me from behind

54) Marie Howe— Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?

55) Valerie Macon— You are the boss of your canvas

56) Patricia Lockwood—  OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

57) Danielle Georges—  O poorest country, this is not your name.

58) Frank Bidart—  In the evening she takes a lethal dose of poison, and on the following morning she is dead.

59) Eileen Myles— I write behind your back.

60) Leila Chatti— Are you also dreaming? Do you still worship me, now that I’m here?

61) Claudia Rankine—  After the initial presidential election results come in, I stop watching the news.

62) Anne Carson—  I can hear little clicks inside my dream.

63) William Logan—  the pastel salons require/the formalities of skin

64) Marilyn Chin—  lust drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency.

65) George Bilgere—  The mysteries/from the public library, due

66) Robin Coste Lewis—  what’s greyed/In and grey slinks ashamed down the drain.

67) Daniel Borzutzky—  hieroglyphics painted on the/walls of financiers who accumulate capital through the/unjustified sexual behavior of adulterous/women

68) Maggie Smith—  Any decent realtor,/walking you through a real shithole, chirps on/about good bones

69) Kim Addonnizio—  a man who was going to be that vulnerable,/that easy and impossible to hurt.

70) Kay Ryan—  If it please God,/let less happen.

71) Dana Gioia—  there is no silence but when danger comes.

72) Megan Fernandez— The bullet is a simple, adolescent heartache.

73) Kushal Poddar— My mom, a wheelchair since two thousand and one

74) Sascha Aurora Akhtar— I ate/But I am/Hungrier than before

75) Jennifer Reeser— your coldness and my idealism/alone for all this time have kept us true.

76) Linda Ashok—  a sudden gust of Kalbaisakhi/changed the conversation.

77) Ramsha Ashraf— tremble and tremble and tremble/With every kiss

78) Amber Tamblyn— If it had been Hillary Clinton, this would’ve never happened to Harvey Weinstein.

79) Ruth Awad— Nothing grows from me except the dead

80) Merryn Juliette— I will love her all insane

81) Nathan Woods— The best poems swell the lungs.

82) Nahid Arjouni— My headscarf will shudder if you speak with anyone. (trans. Shohreh Laici)

83) Philip Nikolayev— the fool moon/couldn’t stand the iambic pentameter any longer

84) Saira Shah Halim— The rains left behind a petrichor of shared verses

85) Jay Z— I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.

86) Nalini Priyadarshni— mostly bookish, as sinfulness should be

87) Mark Doty— Into Eden came the ticks, princes of this world, heat-seeking, tiny

88) Paige Lewis— I’m making love easy for everyone.

89) Mary Oliver—  You don’t have to be good.

90) Lyn Hejinian— to change this nerdy life upon row upon row upon row

91) Afaa Weaver— I stand here where I was born,/ and the masks wait for me.

92) Alex Dimitrov— What is under the earth followed them home.

93) Ben Lerner— jumpsuits, they have changed/painting

94) Wendy Videlock— the owl devours/ the hour,/ and disregards/ the rest

95) Joie Bose— I own that you from that night in November

96) Amy Gerstler— Pardon my/frontal offensive, dear chum.

97) Nathaniel Mackey—  Some new Atlantis known as Lower/Ninth we took leave of next

98) W.S. Merwin— into a world he thought was a thing of the past

99) Juan Felipe Herrera— Where is our exile? Who has taken it?

100) Charles Bernstein—  Think about it, Mr./Fanelli.

FINAL ROUND ONE PROSE BRACKET BATTLE IN MADNESS: DICKENS VS. HAWTHORNE

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The young Nathaniel Hawthorne. He aged quickly.

Empires are obsessed with money.

Their colonies are obsessed with sex.

The greatest author of the British Empire, Charles Dickens, invented Scrooge.

The first great prose writer in America, Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote a famous book about adultery, The Scarlet Letter.

Religion handles the problem of sexual misconduct—the poor, with their suffering, often find their only real pleasure in sex; the rich have many pleasures, and sex might be one of them: money buys all.

Dickens was immensely popular in England, (the first serialized fiction writer; like TV before TV) but due to international copyright laws, his works were published at no cost in the United States—Edgar Poe complained vociferously of this, because U.S. authors were slighted, since American publishers would rather print British works for free than take a chance on an American author.  Poe, gentleman that he was, cared for money, fame, and country (he did not write about sex).  Dickens agreed with Poe, and on a tour of America in 1842, Dickens collected and delivered to the U.S. Congress signatures of American authors who were against the international copyright laws which hurt both Dickens and Poe.

Hawthorne was a strange, reclusive man, whose ancestor was a Salem witch trial judge, and he married an artistic, reclusive woman.  They did have three children, and Hawthorne was certainly a man of the world, but his fiction deals with madness and secret desires.

Dickens wrote from the Christian, domestic center of an expanding worldwide empire and his morals were sunny and simple—despite London nearly ruling the world, London was full of the wretchedly poor, and Dickens wrote for them.

And this line sums up Dickens quite well:

A loving heart is the truest wisdom

When Hawthorne was a boy living in Salem, two events darkened his life: first, his sailor father died of yellow fever at sea, and second, president Thomas Jefferson imposed a shipping boycott—a response to Great Britain’s piratical belligerence in the early 19th century—which crushed maritime Salem’s economy.

Hawthorne died when the American Civil War was still raging. Pictures of him in his 50s (he died at 59) show a very old man. He was first recognized as a great author by Poe, with some reservations, since Hawthorne belonged to the Transcendentalist clique Poe disliked; Poe theorized brilliantly on the short story while reviewing Hawthorne’s tales—the Scarlet Letter was published after Poe’s death, and there’s whispers Hawthorne’s most famous work was based on the rumored affair of Poe and Fanny Osgood.

Hawthorne wrote, not for an Empire, but for an incestuous, puritan village.

Dickens’ characters had funny names.  Hawthorne’s characters had funny souls.

Here is Hawthorne’s line in the March Madness contest:

She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.

Who is the greater genius?

The soaring, sentimental Dickens?

Or the burrowing, burning Hawthorne?

Purgatory puffing a pipe?

Or hell awake under a stone?

 

 

 

SCARRIET SUCCESS

We are busy at Scarriet—publishing new posts on almost a daily basis: original essays, poems, epigrams, Scarriet March Madness Poetry contests—in its 8th year, going on right now, Scarriet Poetry Hot 100’s, you tubes of poem readings, and even song compositions.  And one day we would like to repeat our successful Scarriet Poetry Baseball Leaguein 2010 (when I was teaching English Composition as an adjunct professor and working full time at my real job) Blog Scarriet ran an entire season with 16 teams of all-time poets with entire lineups, pitching staffs, trading deadlines, statistics, pennant races, and a world series—Philadelphia Poe defeated Rapallo Pound.

Scarriet Poetry Hot 100 allows us to bring attention to poets who are not famous yet, but who have written wonderful things: Daipayan Nair, Stephen Cole, Sushmita Gupta, Payal Sharma, Mary Angela Douglas, Nalini Priyadarshni, Philip Nikolayev, Paige Lewis, Valerie Macon, George Bilgere, Kushal Poddar, Joe Green, Cristina Sanchez Lopez, Merryn Juliete, Chumki Sharma, Stephen Sturgeon, Simon Seamount, Lori Desrosiers, and Noah Cicero.

This is a personal note to just say THANK YOU to all our readers—as we head towards a million views since our founding in 2009.  “The One Hundred Greatest Hippies Songs Of All Time” (published in February 2014) still gets over 2,000 views a week.  “The Top One Hundred Song Lyrics That Work As Poetry” (published in 2013) still gets 1,000 views a week.  And posts like “Yeats Hates Keats: Why Do The Moderns Despise The Romantics?” (published in 2010) are constantly re-visited.

A poet (who I’ve never met) on Facebook, Linda Ashok, originally from Kolkata, today requested her FB Friends share “what’s happening to your poetry” and, without thinking, I quickly wrote a post—and realized your friendly Scarriet Editor has been up to quite a lot, lately, and Scarriet readers might as well hear about it:

*******************

Shohreh Laici  who lives in Tehran and I are working on a Persian/Iranian poetry anthology—in English.   (See Laici’s translations of Hessamedin Sheikhi in Scarriet 11/26/16)

My critical study of the poet Ben Mazer will be published by Pen & Anvil Press.

My review of Dan Sociu’s book of poems Mouths Dry With Hatred  is in SpoKe issue 4

Also in SpoKe issue 4: is my review of the Romanian poetry scene (after attending Festival de Literatura, Arad, 9-12 June 2016, Discutia Secreta)

Thanks to poet and professor Joie Bose, I participated in Kolkata’s Poetry Paradigm Coffee for a Poem on World Poetry Day, March 21, in Cambridge MA.

Charles River Journal will be publishing chapters of my Mazer book.

Facebook and Scarriet is where it all happens: so I’m actually not that busy—the literary world comes to me!

Below: the new family dog.  If I don’t walk her, she pees in my bed.  Seems fair.

Image may contain: people sitting, dog, living room, table and indoor

 

 

THE MADNESS CONTINUES. STEPHEN CRANE VERSUS D.H. LAWRENCE

 

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Stephen Crane. 1871–1900  Red Badge of Courage ponders the American Civil War bloodbath.

This prose bracket contest features war (Crane) and  love (Lawrence)—and it probably doesn’t get any better than this.

Ironically, (of course—what do you expect with war and love?) the war passage is peaceful, and the love quotation is warlike.

The horror of war, the beauty of horror, the resting aspect of war, the natural inevitably of war, is captured for all time by Stephen Crane:

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.

Meanwhile, D.H. Lawrence, for whom love and passion was a religion (why is this not true of all of us?  Perhaps it is), injects horror into love—which makes it real love, unfortunately.

He kissed her, and she quivered as if she were being destroyed, shattered.

The glimpse into truth carried by words always has an irony for us—since words are removed from reality.

Aren’t they?

 

PROSE BATTLE IN MADNESS: WILLIAM GADDIS AND JONATHAN SWIFT

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The post-modern novelist William Gaddis

To be post-modern is to be self-referencing in a despairing sort of way, and who has time for the egotistically bleak?

Gaddis said the writer was the “dregs” of his work and the work was all-important. But he protested too much, for post-modernism is where “dregs” is the “work.” OK, this defines modernism, but post-modernism was the most superficial attempt imaginable to escape modernism, this being the whole point. “Modern” and “post-modern” talk was mostly legitimized by over-serious scholars marking “eras” for  convenience for textbooks for modern art classes. University taking a vocational turn towards fashion.

We don’t have time for William Gaddis, but to be kind to him, we have even less time for post-modernism. Time has no time for it, either. It’s already past, and will leave Warholian personality quirks as its mark. Modern was already post-modern: Duchamp’s urinal (1917) became Warhol’s Brillo boxes (1964). Ironic branding existed in 18th century peasant fashions. Post-modern is the attempt to pretend Modern—or Modernism—was ever “modern” at all. I almost said “in the first place,” but “at all” is better. Post-modernism is merely the continuation of Hamlet’s winking madness. A gang of anti-corporate artists: The Weavers? The Beatles? Or the Velvet Underground?

The mischief makers of anti-corporate sincerity inevitably are killed by legal sharks. Upon the stone barriers of bottom line legality flying imagination crashes. Idiots want what they want; those who attempt to wake up the idiots end up as some definition of the criminal. One wonders why the world is full of dumb fucks and the answer is simple: happier to be a dumb fuck with everyone else than be a miserable lone fuck at odds with all the dumb fucks. Happiness is a law.

Which brings us to the words of William Gaddis in our Scarriet Madness Prose bracket:

“Justice?—You get justice in the next world; in this world you have the law.”

Does it have a chance against an 18th political pamphleteer and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Jonathan Swift?

We don’t think it does:

“When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.”

We vastly prefer the Swift.

But the law might feel differently—especially if the dunces are using it.

 

 

 

MORE PROSE BRACKET MADNESS: HEMINGWAY VERSUS MRS. MILES

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Poetry was going down the tubes fast in 1936.

Mad Edna Millay (“what lips my lips have kissed and where and why…”) was about to be replaced by a grey suit…

Paul Engle, with his Iowa Masters Degree (for a book of mediocre poems) and his Yale Younger Poetry Prize (for the same book of mediocre poems) was launching the Iowa Writer’s workshop, which would change the poetry landscape forever—millions of students and professors rushing in where Shelley (a drop-out) feared to tread.

In the 19th century Byron performed physical acts of daring.

In the 20th century, there was no Byron. There was Wallace Stevens—who got beat up, by Hemingway, a prose writer.

The poets were not swimming the Hellespont. They were becoming professors.

Blame it on the Russians, if you want.

College loans (for bad poets) in the United States began with Sputnik.

Paul Engle raised money—for his Iowa Workshop, and later, for his International Writing Program at Iowa—from the Rockefeller Foundation, to fight communism.

Engle writing to the Rockefeller Foundation in 1960, in the wake of the successful Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957:

I trust you have seen the recent announcement that the Soviet Union is founding a University at Moscow for students coming from outside the country…thousands of young people of intelligence, many of whom could never get University training in their own countries, will receive education … along with the expected ideological indoctrination. 

Poetry training in the United States became “indoctrination,” too.

But it was different.

The CIA funded Modern Art to counter Soviet Realist Art—this is crazy, but it happened.

Engle’s “indoctrination” was of a perfectly harmless kind: an anti-indoctrination indoctrination in the unique American way:

Earn a degree and become a poet! Teach others, so they can earn a degree and become a poet! Poetry! Freedom! Freedom! Money! Poetry Workshops! Freedom! Poetry! Money! Poetry! Freedom!

It was exciting. I knew the extrovert Paul Engle—in person.  Poetry! Freedom! Money! is precisely the kind of energy he gave off.

Here in the 21st century, the faucet cannot be turned off.  Trained university poets, training, granting, publishing, are now a flood. The game is on. Fame and poetry are hidden away. If money is like water, poetry is being written on it.

Hemingway (informally tutored by the crazed and clever poet, and modern art collector, Gertrude Stein) was the muscled prose writer who enjoyed vast fame—as poetry was dancing its strange, crooked dance into the university.

This is what the public thought they wanted. Hemingway:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

Real simple prose is almost like poetry sometimes.

Something was going on here.

Prose, simple as a fist, is poetry?

Poetry can easily rush into complexity, and the temptation is great for poets to fling themselves upwards in a funeral pyre of words—but the funeral is theirs.

Poetry is anti-complex.

Hemingway was a poet—(when he wasn’t writing badly, which he often did)–if simplicity is poetry.

And when pretense and experiment is the only other game in town–-it is.

Up against Hemingway, in the 2017 March Madness contest, is Mrs. L. Miles.  Yes, that was her moniker when she published her book on phrenology in 1836.

This is not poetry.  This is real prose, extraordinary for what it says:

The loss of one eye does not destroy the vision. The deafness of one ear does not wholly deprive us of hearing. In the same manner Tiedman reports the case of a madman, whose disease was confined to one side of his head, the patient having the power to perceive his own malady, with the unimpaired faculties of the other side.

Certainly this applies to the twin vision of poetry and prose, and we think it explains why millions, without poetry in their souls, can fool us into thinking they love us, and are sane.

 

 

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD AND OSCAR WILDE FACE OFF IN THE PROSE BRACKET SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS 2017

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F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Great Gatsby is a beloved American novel—a short novel—almost like a long poem.  The writing is delicate, sensitive; the narrator is reflective, sad, moral, demure—not really part of the action; an innocent, bemused witness.  The trope is similar to Watson observing Sherlock Holmes—a trope lifted from Poe’s invention of detective fiction: the teller of the tale tells the reader what is just beyond the teller’s comprehension.

The theme and lure of Gatsby is America’s freedom—freedom that’s wicked: wealth of a dubious nature—beautiful wealth growing from the soil of crime.  And love of a dubious nature—the freedom of adulterous love.

Nick Carraway is us—when we are young, and try our first novel: what’s this big, grown-up, world all about, anyway?  Ugly, seedy, wrong.  But the author will make it beautiful.  Or, sublimely ridiculous, that so amid the tragedy you can (holding the understanding author’s hand) almost—laugh.  And Gatsby is also us—that’s what finally makes Fitzgerald’s book great; we identify not just with the narrator, but with Gatsby.

Fitzgerald succeeds in making his story beautiful, as well; before he was destroyed by alcohol, F. Scott Fitzgerald had high ideals; Fitzgerald rhapsodized over the poet, Keats (who also won highest accolades from Poe as “always a poet of beauty”) and The Great Gatsby achieves a beauty, as we see in the very last line of the book:

And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Oscar Wilde had a sharp wit—he was plying the same trade as Fitzgerald: making the tragedy of life palatable with a mind that greatly understands.

Wilde, like any genius, fights for happiness—genius is a defense against all the meanness of the world.

One can see him winking when he says:

Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.

Christ told us to forgive our enemies—and the pleasure-seeking brute in us protests—“forgive our enemies?  That’s no fun!

The admonition to forgive our enemies robs us of energy in a desire for justice, and cheats us out of the pleasure of defeating our enemies.

But not so fast, Wilde says.  When you forgive your enemies, “nothing annoys them so much.”

And here, in a single stroke, Wilde restores the passion and the energy of justice—while remaining true to Christ’s suggestion.

The Great Gatsby does this, and a certain kind of fiction does this—it presents “enemies”—characters, whom, if we met in real life, we would fear, or hate—and the author attempts to make it possible, even as we shudder at their wrong, to forgive them.

 

 

THE PROSE BRACKET: HOLMES VS. ORWELL

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Eric Blair changed his name to George Orwell to hide from Stalin. 

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

–George Orwell

A dinner party is the last triumph of civilization over barbarism. Conversation depends on how much you take for granted. Vulgar chess-players have to play their games out; nothing short of the brutality of an actual checkmate satisfies their dull apprehensions. But look at two masters of that noble game! White stands well enough, so far as you see; but Red says, Mate in six moves;—White looks, —nods;—the game is over.

–Oliver Wendell Holmes

George Orwell is famous for expounding the truth of government control: lying that blatantly misleads and so breaks the will of resistance.  It’s a two step process. A lie—so obviously a lie, that it is also a form of oppression. The imposition of totalitarian thuggery on a sovereign nation—the Soviet state, in the modern era of advanced communication—and spying—caught the attention of an eccentric, rough-and-ready-yet-awkward, British Empire civil servant, who was born in India, and who served in Burma in the Imperial Police: yes, that’s right— George Orwell himself was an Orwellian Policeman who worked for the British Empire.

George Orwell was working towards a British identity in a H.G. Wells/Bertrand Russell free love, atheistic, homophobic (he called friend and associate Stephen Spender a “pansy”) socialist-but-watch-out-for-the-Soviet-Reds, keep-a-patronizing-eye-on-the-English-working-class, whip-the-school-boy-when-necessary, ramble-in-the-woods, tinker-in-the-garden, blow-up-a-chemistry-set, play-a-prank-or-two, good-cup-of-hot-tea-and-milk, traditional England, sort of way. He loved London. He hated Moscow. Orwell is a great deal simpler than he might seem. To be an eccentric Englishman is to be, quite matter-of-factly Orwellian, through and through—if you haven’t met one of these types, already.

Orwell is that special kind of hero to every western, post-War intellectual—the anti-Stalinist Leftist. He wrote two classics exposing, first in a fairy tale, and then in a dystopian thriller, totalitarian, ideological, mind control, Soviet-style, Communism—or, the CIA Deep State, if you like. He was deeply involved in working class, leftist, journalism and politics, and his two famous books were probably good because, in both, he was able to take a holiday and write fiction to indirectly say what he otherwise strenuously and directly said, and lived: shot in the throat by a sniper in Spain while fighting against Franco, threatened and decried by Stalinists, fighting for socialism, surviving the blitz, writing non-fiction, working part-time jobs, falling ill a lot, chasing women, traveling, and playing a tramp (spying) in poor districts as a journalist.

Writing Animal Farm must have been a lark for this non-stop, chain-smoking, frail, driven, adventurous, wreck of a man who died at 46.

He wrote the Alice in Wonderland of the 20th century about the Soviet Union.

He updates the Victorian classic with absurdism still the underlying trope:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Fire Side Poet who knew Emerson, who lived in Massachusetts, a physician and man of letters, is the American 19th century liberal, ready to join the English and punish the Russians and Germans. Checkmate is moves away, but as certain to come as high tea. Holmes is the brilliant 19th century, free-thinking American—not quite the same thing as an early 20th century, free-thinking, British eccentric, but close. We assume there is much too much evil in the world—so no need to play out the chess match. Accept the match is over.  The U.S. and Britain are to rule the world.  Haven’t you heard?

But what is this? Neither Red nor White have surrendered!

They are still playing!

After numerous overtimes, steady Holmes edges eccentric Orwell!

FROST AND BUKOWSKI: POETRY ROUND ONE

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Charles Bukowski goes up against Robert Frost in this final Round One Poetry Bracket contest.

These are 20th century poets, so don’t expect beautiful poetry.

Bukowski is essentially the child (whoring and drinking whiskey) who utters homely truths which the educated are forced to admit are true.

There’s nothing worse than too late

And there you go.  Who can deny this?  Isn’t he right?

Robert Frost, like Emerson, Melville, and Whitman, first found fame in Great Britain, which, until World War Two, was the World’s English Professor for those seeking literary fame.

The American poet Amy Lowell was visiting London at the same time, fighting with Ezra Pound and his buddy, Ford Maddox Ford—who wanted Amy’s America to join the bloodbath against “the Huns” in the approaching Great War, and Amy would have none of it. Frost, who had a curmudgeon loner streak, kept away from this fight.

Frost’s first two volumes of verse were published in London in 1913 and 1914, just as England was crying for war and it was getting underway.

Then while the genocide was occurring, in 1915, Frost slipped back to America, at the age of 40.  Frost won the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes in 1924, and began teaching at Bread Loaf in 1921, helping to pioneer America’s dubious yet successful Writing Program industry.

Bukowski was born in Germany in 1920—to a German-American sergeant in the American army occupying a defeated Germany after WW I.

Growing up in Los Angeles, a socially withdrawn Bukowski was ridiculed as a boy for his German accent, and frequently beaten by his unemployed father.

Frost goes against Bukowski with his famous

Two roads diverged in a wood and I—took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” was inspired by Edward Thomas, a English poet and walking companion when Frost lived in England; Frost thought Thomas was too fussy about what road they took on their rambles around the English countryside.  Thomas died in the slaughter of World War I.

The wars of the 20th century throw long shadows over all, even these two poets, Bukowski and Frost, who were not soldiers themselves.

The kid who was ridiculed as a kid for his German accent wins.

 

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