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:

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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.

 

BLAKE AND TENNYSON ROUND ONE BATTLE IN POETRY BRACKET, MADNESS 2017

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William Blake, the Romantic Era painter and poet (1757–1827) is the author of many famous lines of poetry.

He seeks the crown of this season’s Scarriet Poetry March Madness with this one:

He who mocks the infant’s faith
Shall be mocked in age & death

But he’s up against a monster!

Alfred Tennyson’s

Blow bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Poetry participates in sound.

The Modernists make the absurd claim that poetry can be prose—which implies that prose cannot be poetic.  But. Yes. Prose can be poetic—-in every manner in which the Modernists define poetry—and so we see the complete absurdity of the Modernist definition of poetry—which is no definition at all.

If there are no rules for baseball, there is no baseball, there is chaos, and there is already plenty of chaos in the universe.  But if there are rules for baseball, we have baseball, which adds to the world’s enjoyments.  Rules add. Freedom subtracts. One should celebrate definitions and rules—for they produce bountyScarcity, anxiety, and boredom come about when definitions and rules are destroyed.

We love the sentiment of Blake’s couplet, and the strange and marvelous “infant’s faith.”

But the Tennyson is pure poetry of the highest kind.

Blake’s is the impulse for poetry.

Tennyson’s is poetry.

Tennyson wins.

 

 

POETRY BRACKET ROUND ONE: FANNY OSGOOD VERSUS JOHN DONNE!

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Fanny Osgood

There were many exquisite women poets in the 19th century, but since “modern” means more than “women” in poetry, very few of them are read anymore.  Dickinson, really. And that’s it.

In this contest the great John Donne takes on an American poetess from the 19th century, rumored (rumor only!) to have had an affair with Edgar Poe.  He supported her in reviews.

She spoke not—but, so richly fraught
With language are her glance and smile,
That, when the curtain fell, I thought
She had been talking all the while.

–Fanny Osgood

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

–John Donne

Why do we think these 19th century women poets were not modern?  They were.  And one can certainly see why they thought they were being “modern.”

Just compare the two—John Donne:

For those whom thou [a personified Death] think’st thou dost overthrow

to Fanny Osgood:

She [an actual person] had been talking all the while.

Fanny Osgood is a modern writer.  Why is she forgotten, then?

T.S. Eliot—part of the male Poetry & Criticism clique, with Pound, of High Modernism, (only Marianne Moore was allowed to join the club as a token)—championed the “Metaphysical Poets” (the term was actually coined by Samuel Johnson, who found fault with the same group) and Donne was one of these heralded ‘Metaphysicals’ for Eliot, who busily damned Shelley, Milton, and Shakespeare, and unlike Poe, seemed to find no female poets to his liking.

Donne, sounding like a school boy, tells someone named “Death” you’re not so “mighty” and you cannot “kill me.”

The whole thing is laughable, and really belongs more to Theosophical Wit than Poetry.

Donne is done in by his own logic; he says that if a nap is good, death must be better—and yet we wake up from a nap.

The chief secretary of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (Donne’s position for a while) also says that “our best men” end up with Death, but this, apparently makes Death bad, the same as when “desperate men” go with him.

And Death is apparently not “mighty” because he hangs out with “war.”

The real wit is achieved at the end, which basically says if we do wake up after we die, as with a nap, then, and only then: “Death, thou shalt die.”  Which is only to be expected.

Contrast this with Fanny Osgood’s passage in March Madness 2017.

According to Poe, this is the best kind of poetry, “breathing Nature,” with “nothing forced or artificial.”

Osgood describes beautifully a woman who speaks without speaking.

Here are the two quatrains which precede the one quoted:

Now gliding slow with dreamy grace,
Her eyes beneath their lashes lost,
Now motionless, with lifted face,
And small hands on her bosom crossed.

And now with flashing eyes she springs—
Her whole bright figure raised in air,
As if her soul had spread its wings
And poised her one wild instant there!

She spoke not—but, so richly fraught
With language are her glance and smile,
That, when the curtain fell, I thought
She had been talking all the while.

Fanny Osgood has defeated the immortal John Donne!  A mighty upset!  Death, art thou shocked?

ROUND ONE POETRY MADNESS CONTINUES—DICKINSON VS. READ

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Who has heard of the poet Thomas Buchanan Read?

None, is our guess.

Poe called Read “the echo of an echo,” a “copyist of Longfellow.”  “His sin is imitativeness.”

We love this line, however:

As if the star which made her forehead bright
Had burst and filled the lake with light.

Poe also called Thomas Read, “one of our truest poets,” and praised his “fancy,” “tenderness” and “subdued passion.”

But Poe, always on the look out for plagiarism, felt Read may have seen this by James Russell Lowell: “As if a star had burst within his brain.”

The lovely effect of Read’s couplet is a simple matter of what poetry does best: it lays movement over meaning.

The word “burst,” because the ‘r’ and the ‘s’ and the ‘t’ are all pronounced, stops the progress of our reading with an “explosion.”  The result of the explosion is replicated in the steady iambic rhythmic of: “and filled the lake with light.”  The ‘l’ sound of “lake” and “light” makes for beauty, just as “bright” and “burst” do—it is the brightness of the star which is bursting and creating the image of a lake filled with light—rhyming with bright. 

Anyone who doesn’t appreciate this, and who does not believe this belongs to the highest aspiration of poetry, is not human.

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just ourselves—
And immortality.

Dickinson, in her famous line, is doing the same thing: Because I could not STOP (same iambic rhythm, same pause—instead of Read’s “burst,” we get Dickinson’s “stop.”  And the charm is when Dickinson repeats the word in the line: Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me.  And “stopped,” pronounced on our lips, is literally more of a stopping than the word, “stop,” since with “stopped,” we have to pronounce more letters—which is appropriate, for we are dealing with the stop, absolutely—death.

Dickinson’s line continues, “the carriage held but just ourselves—and immortality.”  This is brilliant, because who wants to be immortal inside a carriage (coffin)?  It reminds one of Hamlet’s line, “I could live in a nutshell and be a king of infinite space…”  Immortality inside a coffin, infinity inside a coffin—a crucial difference.  Or perhaps not. How would it be, if there are two lovers, in love forever? Inside a coffin?  A common theme: Love and death.  But the Madness 2017 features words, not whole poems, so let’s not get distracted.

Personifying death is artificial and labor-intensive, although it awakens a certain primitive thrill, this courting scene which Dickinson (like the old German artists) sets up.

Read’s “star” is finally more purely thrillling than Dickinson’s “death.”

Read—narrowly—upsets Dickinson.

 

 

 

 

 

FILM, ROUND ONE, MADNESS 2017

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The film bracket consists of famous one-liners heard from the movies.

Memorable poetry was murdered by Modernism in the early 20th century; but it remained alive in America in popular song and popular film. Keats was taught in American colleges until the English professor was gradually replaced, from the middle to the late 20th century, by the Creative Writing professor.

Poetry isn’t poetry if it isn’t memorable.

By this definition, a line from a film, a line which everyone knows, is poetry in the consciousness of a nation.

So here we go with round one action:

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn versus. Elementary, my dear Watson

“What seems to be the problem?” “Death.” versus Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.

I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse. versus To be or not to be, that is the question.

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown versus I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk? versus You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore versus Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.

I coulda been a contender versus I want to be alone.

Bond. James Bond versus Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.

 

Here’s 8 contests—the greatest movie lines of all time.

Is objective judgment possible here?

Is there too much associative baggage, too much context in each line, for any true objective aesthetic judgment to be made?

There are many who say no objective aesthetic judgment can ever be made.

However, one does not have to read Plato or Kant to understand that truth is not understood by something outside itself—the truth of something is how it presents itself to us from the inside out.  Measurement, for instance, is a thing’s extension, or an event’s duration—and length or brightness or size can be, but is not, subjective; however, we don’t need “inches” or “seconds” to make something “true.”  The truth is already in the measurement-potential.  And the thing determines how it is measured, not the other way around. The thing in this case is a movie line—which has a real existence in the real world and makes an impact on the real world as much as any solid object we might want to “measure.”

So objectivity is possible—we just need to ascertain how this is to be measured.

First, poetry’s success is largely determined by its rhythm.   If all else is equal, the more interesting rhythm must prevail in terms of movie lines, as well.

Second, movie lines—with their context—can evoke more or less, depending on the lucidity, interest, and focus of the ‘film scene’ they are from—the imagery, drama, or character of the movie line itself should be considered.

And third, we have language. Language can move inward towards specific definition and outward towards general truth—and speech which does both of these at the same time in a coherent manner, is certainly a sought-after quality.

And this pretty much covers it.  This is how we “measure” the aesthetic excellence of move lines.

“Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By” has a more interesting rhythm than “Bond. James Bond,” though both are strong.  Everything else is pretty much equal.  “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By” evokes more of a specific scene, too.

But why does this movie line get misquoted all the time as “Play it again, Sam?”

How can so many people hear something incorrectly into popularity?

How is there “room for error” when we are talking about a very short phrase in the minds of millions?

Does this automatically call into question the popularity, or the aesthetic quality of “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By?”

It could, but we don’t think a popular line should be punished because it is misquoted.  The original phrase, as spoken in the film, is still responsible for launching the success.

Sam beats James.

 

 

 

THE MADNESS CONTINUES! AUDEN BATTLES WELBY!

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Here’s another classic poetry battle between the 19th and 20th centuries in the Poetry Bracket, Round One:

W.H. Auden, the well-connected, gay, British poet, became American in 1940.

T.S. Eliot, who helped Auden first get published in 1930, went from American to British in 1927.

Auden traveled to Iceland, Germany, and China (with Christopher Isherwood, who ended up, like Aldous Huxley, in California); Auden rather famously called the 1930s that “low, dishonest decade.”

Auden also wrote a well-known elegy on Yeats—who died at the end of that decade.

Auden knew Stephen Spender—who secretly got CIA funding for his literary magazine, Encounter.

Auden taught at Michigan, gave John Ashbery the Yale Younger Prize, and spent most of his life as an American in New York City; he was a chain-smoker, and it was said of the Jungian W.H. Auden that he “smelled like shit.” Actual shit.

Auden wrote rollicking poetry ballads, similar to Kipling (whom Eliot loved) and Auden converted to Christianity (he knew C.S. Lewis at Oxford) around the time he crossed over to America; Auden also edited an anthology of Light Verse, wrote somewhat admiringly on Poe, and had a few interesting, but ultimately misguided things to say about Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

He’ll be remembered for a few poems.

Auden’s entry is from a later poem of his:

“Let the more loving one be me.”

This sums up his personality: a witty, somewhat cynical, romantic, puppy dog.

Auden’s line sounds very 20th century, in its hippie pleading in the face of that era’s spectacular wreckage of hatred and violence.

Amelia Welby is a 19th century poet, another one of those women poets championed by Poe—whom the 20th century, fueled by the insanity of Ezra Pound, forgot.  The moderns were even contemptuous of Edna Millay; 20th century women poets like Dorothy Parker, Amy Lowell, Sara Teasdale, and Eleanor Wyley were overshadowed by the brittle Marianne Moore—because Moore, not the others, belonged to the 1920s Dial clique of Pound, Williams, and Eliot.

Welby’s line has music, not morals:

“And birds and streams with liquid lull Have made the stillness beautiful”

But Welby’s beauty is moral.  A idea which, unfortunately, completely disappeared in 20th poetry.

Twilight At Sea

The twilight hours, like birds, flew by,
As lightly and as free,
Ten thousand stars were in the sky,
Ten thousand on the sea;
For every wave, with dimpled face,
That leaped upon the air,
Had caught a star in its embrace,
And held it trembling there.

Welby (1819-1852)

Most moderns read a poem like this and sneer at its pretty sentimentality.

But it’s not sentimental at all.  There’s no expression of morality in Welby’s poem.  It’s sensual only.

“Let the more loving one be me” is sentimental, and a little egotistical, too.

It’s the august beauty of “Twilight At Sea” which scares moderns away—because words that bend to beauty seem to them to give up way too much.  They want words to do more.  Which they can, in prose.  But, the moderns want poems, too, to sound like prose; the moderns don’t want the meal (prose) and desert (poetry) to be separate. Ever.  Table manners in the 20th century suffered a blow.

The “lull” in Welby’s line is not the noun, meaning a break in activity, but the verb, which means soothe with sound.

Sound echoes sense in the Welby.  The “stillness” is the unified dignity of the line, describing natural beauty—whose natural beauty invades itself in the line’s insouciant “lull.”

Auden’s line is a good one, too.  Psychologically, people tend to believe that in every love relationship, imbalance or inequality inevitably appears, grows, and ruptures the bliss—and Auden insists on being the lover, “the more loving one,” even if the beloved, like a silent star, is indifferent to human love.

We like this contest.  We like both sides.

Welby, the more loved “stillness,” wins.

PROSE ROUND ONE MADNESS: NABOKOV, MARTIN LUTHER KING, LOLITA VS. I HAVE A DREAM

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JFK, Lincoln, Lennon, MLK, all murdered in America, suddenly, in a public manner. Reagan, almost killed in the same way. Poe, most likely assassinated, too, found on the streets in Baltimore, where newly president-elect Lincoln, 11 years later, was disguised as an old women by Pinkerton’s police on route to the U.S. capitol to be sworn in.

Why do those who improve the United States, who give it unity and hope, in a grand, profound, public manner, die in America in the public square—murdered by those lurking in the shadows?

Because the United States thwarted a world Empire—deep-state-on-a-global-scale—on the verge of  world conquest in the late 18th century—a world conquest based on war, law-bending, subterfuge, royalty, monetary manipulation, criminality, free trade, immorality, opium; the British Empire—a far-reaching, press-controlled, business-as-usual, divide-and-conquer globalism.

There are Romes within Rome.

Rome hates nothing more than the springing up within it of a greater and grander and freer Rome.

To the Rome that was the British Empire, America became a Greece, and floated away.

From the ruins of the American Civil War (Russian fleets in SF, NY harbors reminding superpowers France and Britain not to invade the U.S. on behalf of the Confederacy), the 1860-65 bloodbath, the U.S. gradually became the world’s Rome, the announcement made fully with the loud bombs dropped on Japan—Britain’s former ally and brutal Chinese invader. The savagery of the 20th century was the ferocious, big-tech-driven, reaction of London bridge massively falling down.

President LBJ, whose window of fame was between the JFK assassination in 1963 and the MLK assassination in 1968, was a U.S. Southern Democrat, repairing the image of the Democratic party’s historic racism, as he bombed the hell out of Vietnam—a cynical, 1960s, consolidation of that “deep-state, Ivy League, uni-party” which ruled the U.S. from the summer of 1850 until November, 2016.

Martin Luther King was, like everyone else who goes into politics, a political pawn, but he gave a really good speech in which he said what should matter in Plato’s Republic is character, not the color of one’s skin.

Vladimir Nabokov, who spoke French, English and Russian in a privileged childhood in Russia, first fled the Soviets and later in Paris, the Nazis. His Jewish Russian wife prevented him from burning the manuscript of Lolita—written while he was teaching literature at Cornell and collecting butterflies. One of Nabokov’s siblings knew Ayn Rand. As a professor in the U.S., Nabokov, known as a sexist, disliked the American left.

Plato’s Republic would have banned Lolita. Good literature is about sin.

Color of skin, sin, and character.

It’s the complex middle term above—sin—which makes the other two impossible to reconcile; although it should be easy, right? Character. Yes. Skin color. No.

Nabokov wins.

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL ROUND ONE BATTLE IN SONG BRACKET

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Sad to think we have already come to the end of the 2017 Scarriet March Madness first round in the Song bracket with this contest.

How fleeting life is!

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home…”

There isn’t a sadder lyric than this in all of song.

Except, perhaps, from “A Horse With No Name:”  “After two years in the desert sun, my skin began to turn red.  After three years in the desert sun, I was standing by a river bed. And the story it told of a river that flowed made me sad to think it was dead.”  Well, no, actually.  “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” is much sadder.

It goes up against another anonymous folk/spiritual lyric: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,” which is one of the happiest. Exuberant, one might say.

Both involve parenthood.

We wonder how many, who really don’t have a mother, could sing “Motherless Child” without collapsing in tears?  Are the song’s words for the sad, but not the truly afflicted? Melancholy we can tolerate. Depression we cannot.

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” rolls off the tongue very nicely—a great example of alliteration and assonance.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” is dominated by that lone long “e” sound in feel.

Why do folk songs depict sorrow and pain of the most realistic kind?  Family sorrow. Murder. Tragedy.

And why is the popular, by contrast, so fluffy and romantic and escapist?

Both folk music and popular music are for “the people.”

So why are they so different?

Opera, which is highbrow, is also concerned with great tragedy.

Therefore folk music, with its sorrow, is closer to high culture—yet “folk songs” are as close to the earth as you can get.

In the middle realm are the smiling musicians, well-presented, jingling and jangling their pretty songs of effusive romance.  Melancholy, these songs may be, but they go down easy.

The highbrow is salt, not sugar. (Though genius often mixes the salt and the sweet.)

Who wins this contest?  The sorrowful “Motherless Child” or the joyful “This Little Light of Mine?”

Who can possibly say?

These two poles—the sad and happy child—stretch outward to infinity.

AMAZING GRACE VERSUS I’M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY

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The song “Amazing Grace,” perhaps the most popular spiritual in the West, makes its song-like point explicitly—“how sweet the sound which saved a wretch like me.” It is the song itself, the very sound of the song itself, which “saves” the wretched listener—a fully secular message—that even an atheist can understand—as well as a profoundly religious one. Religion’s going to convert you—with a secular trick, with a song. Is a singing a religious thing? Does it matter? When is a partnership an invasion?

Finally, what does poetry have to say about all this? And the poetry critic—which is finally what Scarriet represents?

“Amazing Grace” makes us think of singing, not poetry. Poetry and song belong to each other, and yet song will more easily go off and serve religion. Poetry isn’t sure.

Music makes me lose my mind. Poetry finds it, again.

If the “sound” saves the wretch, the good songwriter exactly matches the sound with the words, and if both sound and words are necessary, the narrower sound logically should call the shots, since the smaller set always commands the larger one, in any successful endeavor.

If the army told the general what to do, the war would be lost, not because the general is smarter than the army, but because the general is one, and the army is many.

Words will always be the army, since words and their multiple combinations and denotations are a vast universe; music is a simple hurdy-gurdy moan by comparison. Acrobatic words are a circus, a city, a world. Music is the lone troll hiding under the hill.

The music is the lesser, so the music is the commander of the words.

Especially, and this defines poetry—in that war, that mission, that conflict, which we call poetry.

The sound saves the wretch. The sound, not the words, is the general, the God.

You are saved by the troll hiding under the hill.

The genius of Hank Williams, like all great songwriters (and poets) is that the words, taught and led and infected by the music, become a kind of music in themselves, which in turn, re-infects the sound, until music is poetry and poetry is music, and the army is God and the army is commanding itself, and religion and belief and secularism and nature and humans and music and words and sorrow and escape-from-sorrow are one.

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill? He sounds too sad to fly. The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry.

To analyze this would be to damage it. The beauty of it should be apparent without explanation. We trust, with the faith of a believer, that it is.

We only might remark that an educated voice might object that Hank Williams, the poet, sentimentally imposes a human quality—“lonesome” on the bird; but “lonesome” can mean simply “lone” or “one,” and yet, who does not believe that beasts can feel lonely—if not inanimate objects like trains? When the poet boldly and ingeniously uses the word a second time, it does slide over into the more human—and into our hearts.

Williams wins.

 

LEONARD COHEN AND THE ROLLING STONES: MORE MADNESS 2017

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These two acts, Leonard Cohen and the Stones, facing off in a Round One contest in the Song bracket, represent that era in popular Western music when singers with poor singing voices became immensely successful because of catchy melodies and beats, but also because of good poetry.

This is where poetry went—into music—when it was killed off by the Writing Programs in the mid-century, disappearing on the “any scribble can be poetry” prose-train of William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and Robert Lowell-teaching-and-drinking-at-Iowa. Poetry, ever resourceful, escaped into popular music and flourished on the lips of Frank Sinatra, Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee, Donovan Leitch and Marc Bolan.

Leonard Cohen, a small, tone deaf man with a two note singing range, became one of the greatest and respected pop singers of all time. He was a poet above all else.

As with Bob Dylan, female singers with lovely voices, like Judy Collins and Joan Baez, swooped in to create sweetness out of Cohen’s songs and words. Poetry transcends musical sweetness, however, for poetry is the music itself. Shhh. Don’t tell this to the modern “poets.”

Bob Dylan was a gigantic influence in the mid-60s—that wonderful window of intellectual and poetic ferment, extolled today by Camille Paglia, pitiful dinosaur! But it’s true, the 60’s was an amazing time for poetry, such that Dionysian, phenomenally successful, rhythm and blues acts like the Beatles and Stones chucked their blues for invention, jumping on the cool bandwagon of Dylan’s poetry.

Ironically, Dylan wasn’t really that great as a poet—far more facile than great, but definitely good—but he absorbed folk and protest poetry in a highly authentic and skilled manner, and pushed it into the rock mainstream in a manic, overdone, hyperbolic, LSD, sort of way in 1965, just when the zeitgeist was waiting for this to happen, apparently, and poetry sprung up everywhere in the music business, as amateur poets, often better than Dylan himself, began to infuse poetry unapologetically into the immediacy of their extremely popular music, which already had a boomer audience of millions hanging on their every word.

So this battle represents that: one of the lyrics is from the 1967 Rolling Stones, when these English white boys, exploiting “black” music, returned to their own “roots” of “white” English “poetry.”

“Two Thousand Light Years From Home” by the Rolling Stones  is the first great “lonely outer space” symphonic rock song, which no doubt influenced what is arguably the best songs ever produced by David Bowie and Elton John—“Space Oddity” and “Rocket Man.”

“Bound for a star by an ocean” is beautiful poetry—by the Rolling Stones! Sure, why not. Their large audience at that time, not yet fully crushed by corporate, dumbed down, entertainment, wanted and expected poetry. It was the 60’s, remember. Poetry’s revenge.

Leonard Cohen’s entry is from a later composition, “Anthem,” (from the 90s, from Leonard Cohen as a wise old man—Cohen established himself in the 60s as a romantic Dylan and Donovan type singer-songwriter).

Bells are cracked, and everything is broken, and that’s how the light gets in.

Cohen’s lyric is too clever, too precious, too abstractly sentimental in its—yes—scientific profundity—breakage is the key to progress and spirituality—Cohen would absolutely win if scientific wisdom were the sole criterion.

But “you’re two hundred light years from home” is more fully poetic, as true poets will understand.

The Rolling Stones advance.

ELLIOTT SMITH AND FRANK SINATRA BATTLE IN SONG ROUND ONE

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Who could be more different—different people, different music, different eras, different sensibilities: Frank Sinatra and Elliott Smith?

A world war two era mensch against a grunge era diffident.

And yet, like a chemical reaction, these two in meeting each other, explode, and a third is created—the product being an insight into poetry itself.

Many have no interest in poetry, profess not to “get” poetry, are intimidated by poetry, hate poetry, but nonetheless adore songs.

What the hell is up with that?

Doesn’t this prove that people don’t really know what they think, or what they like?

You cannot take the poetry away from “Will you miss me, Miss Misery?” and still have the song artist, Elliott Smith, and in the exact same way, the poetry of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly me to the moon and let me sing among the stars I want to see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars” relies on poetry—which millions of Frank Sinatra fans “don’t like.”

And we need to say that by “poetry,” we refer to poetry in the absolute definition of it—we’re not using the term in some ironic “popular culture” sense; no, we mean poetry.

And the more poetry you get, the more misery; this is what lyricism is—it’s sadness, the only emotion truly worthy of art and religion.  We turn the light up to see.  We start a fire to warm ourselves.  But the minor light of sadness is art: this is the realm it occupies, at an exact number of lumens.

An impractical amount of lumens is art.

Smith crams every syllable with sound-resemblance in “miss me, Miss Misery.” The line is depressed into an even more minor key because it’s a question “will you miss me, Miss Misery?,” and the ‘zzz’ sound drag on the more fluid ‘sss’ sound, in the word “misery” adds even more melancholy.

This is poetry working.  This is what poetry does.

Frank Sinatra isn’t quite the wreck Elliott Smith is, so he won’t be caught asking such a pitiful question; instead he’s making demands: “fly me to the moon.” But the poetic lyricism, despite inhabiting the solar system, occupies a box nearly as small as Smith’s: the impossible “stars” and “Mars,” together with “sing” and “spring” trap the lyric impulse in poetic sound-resemblance, the enclosed space holding but a little light, and less heat: spring on Jupiter.

Both songs are pitiful pleas for true love—and sound-resemblance is poetry’s truth.

It’s pathetic, really.

Song, poetry.

Poetry, song.

In true pathetic fashion, Elliott Smith wins.

WHERE IS THE MADNESS OF YESTERDAY?

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Another first round battle in the Song Bracket features a fated match.

Paul versus Paul.

“Yesterday” versus “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?”

As the poet Shelley said, “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

Paul McCartney and Paul Simon wrote some of the sweetest, most unforgettable tunes ever—and they both know that in song, sadness catches the sweet.

What’s sadder than a bright, but fading yesterday? Death isn’t sad. Getting old is sad.  Yesterday is sad.

Sweetness surrounds the dying to ease the pain.

With Paul and Paul into the pain we go, and ripen, and feel the sweetness flow.

So who wins this contest?   It comes down to “I’m sad now because I was happy” versus “We (a nation) are sad now, because we were happy.”

Paul McCartney wins—because he took a word—Yesterday—and made it a song almost by itself.

By comparison, the Paul Simon song is a history lesson of some kind.

The song, “Yesterday,” is quicker poison.

Yesterday advances, it’s giant shadow covering Joe DiMaggio.

 

ROUND ONE IN POETRY: KEATS VERSUS BYRON

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Byron

It is fitting somehow, that Lord Bryon faces off against Keats in Scarriet’s Poetry Madness—these are the two greatest poets, in English, perhaps, and their vast differences bespeak of Man’s two extreme personalities: One, manly and mercurial, the other feminine and consistent.

Here is Byron reacting rather egotistically, and coldly, to Keats’ death, remarking that Keats was killed by a bad review, but he (Byron) wasn’t:

Is it true, what Shelley writes me, that poor John Keats died at Rome of the Quarterly Review? I am very sorry for it, though I think he took the wrong line as a poet, and was spoilt by Cockneyfying, and Suburbing, and versifying Tooke’s Pantheon and Lempriere’s Dictionary. I know, by experience, that a savage review is Hemlock to a sucking author; and the one on me (which produced the English Bards, etc.) knocked me down — but I got up again. Instead of bursting a blood-vessel, I drank three bottles of Claret, and began an answer, finding that there was nothing in the Article for which I could lawfully knock Jeffrey on the head, in an honourable way.

Byron was cruel and sentimental, cold and warm, by turns, a man of the world, who loved and hated, risked and lost, ranted and wept; where Keats, perhaps the slightly higher genius, was satisfied to live in a cottage and love the maiden next door; Keats was never sentimental, never cruel—but burned with a glow, everlasting.

This is not quite true.  Even Keats had his anger and his petulance.

Any good poet—as Poe pointed out—is irritable; reaching after perfection, one will naturally be annoyed at times.

And yet Keats’ bad moods must have resembled the bad moods of a flower.

The aesthetically critical mind can be argumentative, and still gentle.

Look at this sneering sonnet Keats wrote (he sounds like Byron!):

The House of Mourning written by Mr Scott,
A sermon at the Magdalen, a tear
Dropped on a greasy novel, want of cheer
After a walk uphill to a friend’s cot,
Tea with a maiden lady, a cursed lot
Of worthy poems with the author near,
A patron lord, a drunkenness from beer,
Haydon’s great picture, a cold coffee pot
At midnight when the Muse is ripe for labour,
The voice of Mr Coleridge, a French bonnet
Before you in the pit, a pipe and tabour,
A damned inseparable flute and neighbour —
All these are vile, but viler Wordsworth’s sonnet
On Dover. Dover! — who could write upon it?

It sneers, yes.  But it’s a sonnet.

It is one of the more interesting poems by Keats—because it reveals so much about him.  He liked coffee, etc.

“The House of Mourning” is not a well-known poem.

Nor is this line of Keats’s well-known either, “Soft went the music the soft air along.”

Connoisseurs of poetry will recognize instantly the genius and beauty of this line—chosen for the 2017 Madness.

“Soft went the music the soft air along” has no sentiment.  The line has beauty only.

The famous Byron line is beautiful—and also sentimental.

“So we’ll go no more a roving, So late into the night, Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright.”

Keats wins.

MADNESS GLAM IN THE FIRST ROUND!

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David Bowie (real name Jones) went on to be a world famous superstar of glam rock—but Marc Bolan (of the band T. Rex), who was killed at 29 in a driving accident, his wife at the wheel (her name was Jones) originated the genre.

What was the genre glam rock?  It was basically blues rock with more feminine flamboyance, camp, and glitter, a natural outcome of “hippie music,” a natural extension of something a little looser on top of a pronounced beat.

The evolution of all music follows this path—expanding rhythmic, harmonic, vocal, melodic, intangible and lyrical interest; there is nothing particularly outrageous or rebellious here, as we look back on it.

Let the psychologists and the sociologist wax on the gender and moral questions, but the theatricality of glam rock was simply jumping on what was already done in the psychedelic mid-60s, which also was just adding, in minor ways, to rather simple ‘rock and roll’ templates.

Theatricality is how all music evolves—towards it, or away from it.

Crescendo is a key element in music—another word for climax—and music which is sexy in an unapologetic manner, such as glam rock often is, when it’s not coarse or disgusting or boring, is naturally very appealing.  Those chased away by the amoral elements may miss out on some truly good music.

Space Oddity is a great song—Bowie’s masterpiece, with the famous “Can you hear me, Major Tom” (around this time the Who would release “Tommy Can You Hear Me?) continues what the Rolling Stones did in the studio with “Two Thousand Light Years From Home,” the mellotron, an electronic keyboard instrument first built in 1963, allowing bands to sound like Richard Wagner.

The combination of transcendent strings with rock beats was a godsend for popular music. Space Oddity is not sexy, per se, but makes great use of a rocket launching into space, with the same melancholy mood inspired by the Stones “Two Thousand Light Years From Home,” and, in addition, we get the fortuitous blending of the song’s theme of technological alienation with the electronic instrumentation of the song itself.

Cosmic Dancer by T. Rex also blends rock instrumentation, melancholy, and a lush and swelling string sound.

The strummed guitar, the jolting percussion, the unsentimental banging, when combined with sustained, sentimental strings can be a real delight.

The Marc Bolan lyric is strange, but perfect, “I was dancing since I was eight. Is it wrong to dance so late?”  It’s fanciful, making no sense, really—and yet evokes a self-conscious feeling of indefinite delight.

The Bowie lyric refers to the heroic, lost astronaut at the heart of his wonderful, tragic song: “Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.”

Does it matter who wins this—how can we choose?

We have a soft spot for Marc Bolan, who died tragically at 29.

Cosmic Dancer advances.

DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE MADNESS: ROUND ONE

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We attribute to every sporting contest a rivalry which may, or may not, exist.

We think we see love.  Which may not exist.

Most opponents are paired up by chance. The rivalry isn’t real.

In an arranged marriage, where love is the object, a thousand considerations and judgments will arise, as two people, forced into a relationship of love, are forced to overcome a potential horde of disgusts and dislikes, in order to love.

If one isn’t feeling the love, it isn’t going to happen; if a heavily romantic atmosphere is not artificially created, with a certain genius for love-design, given that most human beings are not exactly gods and goddesses, love of mutually strong attractiveness is, in fact, an extremely rare thing.

In combat, however, the randomly matched will have no problem working themselves up into a feverish madness to win; a great egoistic desire to vanquish the other, as if an overwhelming rivalry had existed for a lifetime, is easily attained.

The competitive conquers love—the hated is instantly fashioned; combat can be had for nothing. True love belongs to only the most miraculously fortunate.

The first thing we do when we land on the site of this year’s Scarriet March Madness tourney is wash ourselves in the simple outdoor shower, the rich jungle of the tropical isle stretching out from us in all directions.

The opening ceremony’s camaraderie is helped by symbols (mostly edible) and drink, and also the music from the loudspeakers—composed long ago by the early founders of the Madness.

This year we have songwriters, bands, poets, filmmakers, actors, and writers.

There are four brackets: song, film, poetry, and prose. The greatest words, expressing every aspect of human history: love, war, beauty, history, and rivalry.

Reproduction is not love; animals pair up, and reproduce, and yet—human love is mysteriously tied up with animal reproduction—this idea is wittily and breezily celebrated by Cole Porter in his famous song Let’s Do It—Let’s Fall In Love.

The Star Spangled Banner has an equally vital and universal theme: the landscape of a country, the bravery of its defense, the patriotic celebration of its freedom—no embarrassing love material in this song!

Is it ironic that the first team mentioned in our first contest features a song about “pairing up?”

Will Cole Porter win, or lose, against star spangled patriotism—a pairing of citizen and country?

These two songs. They don’t write them like this anymore. They don’t.

The Star Spangled Banner wins.

“Let’s do it” has met its match.

In the sunshine of this year’s Madness isle.

Where crowds of visitors gather in large numbers for the thrill.

Rivalry behind every tree.  Love on the top of every hill.

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS 2017: GREATEST WORDS OF ALL TIME

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SONG

1 Even little cuckoos in their clocks, do it. Let’s fall in love. –Cole Porter

2 We kissed in a field of white and stars fell on Alabama, last night. –Mitchell Parish

3  Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.  –McCartney

4  I was dancin’ since I was eight. Is it wrong to dance so late? –T. Rex

5  Will you miss me, Miss Misery? –Elliott Smith

6  Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in  –Cohen

7  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.   –Newton

8  Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.  –anonymous

9  This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.   –anonymous

10  Hear that lonesome whipporwill? He sounds too sad to fly. The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry.  –Hank Williams

11 Bound for a star by an ocean, you’re so very lonely, you’re two thousand light years from home.  –Rolling Stones

12 Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.  –Sinatra

13 Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.  –Bowie

14 Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  –Paul Simon

15  Send my credentials to the house of detention.  –The Doors

16 O say does that star spangled banner yet wave—o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?  –F. Scott Key

POETRY

1  Soft went the music the soft air along –Keats

2  For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons; I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.  –Eliot

3  Let the more loving one be me.  –Auden

4  Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.  –Dickinson

5  Death, be not proud  –Donne

6  I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow –Roethke

7  He who mocks the infant’s faith Shall be mocked in age & death –Blake

8  There’s nothing worse than too late  –Bukowski

9  Two roads diverged in a wood and I—took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.  –Frost

10  Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying; blow, bugle, answer echoes, dying, dying, dying.  –Tennyson

11 Green dells that into silence stretch away  –C. Matthews

12 She spoke not—but, so richly fraught with language are her glance and smile, that when the curtain fell, I thought She had been talking all the while. –Fanny Osgood

13 As if the star which made her forehead bright Had burst and filled the lake with light –Read

14 And birds and streams with liquid lull Have made the stillness beautiful –Amelia Welby

15 How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.  –Barrett

16 So we’ll go no more a roving, So late into the night, Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright.  –Byron

FILM

1  “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” –Gone with the Wind

2  “What seems to be the problem? Death.” –Blade Runner

3  “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” –Godfather

4  “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” –Chinatown

5  “You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?” –Sudden Impact

6  “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” –Wizard of Oz

7  “I coulda been a contender.”  –On The Waterfront

8  “Bond. James Bond.”  –Dr. No

9  “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.”  –Casablanca

10 “I want to be alone.”  –Grand Hotel

11  “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” –Dracula

12  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”   –Jaws

13  “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  –Streetcar Named Desire

14  “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” –Hamlet

15  “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”  –King Kong

16  “Elementary, my dear Watson!”  –Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

PROSE

1 During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing along on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. –Poe

2  Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  –Nabokov

3  It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. –Orwell

4  And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.  –F.Scott Fitzgerald

5  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.  –Hemingway

6  Justice?—You get justice in the next world; in this world you have the law.  –Gaddis

7  The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.  –S. Crane

8  She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.  –Hawthorne

9  A loving heart is the truest wisdom.  –Dickens

10  He kissed her, and she quivered as if she were being destroyed, shattered.  –D.H. Lawrence

11  When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.  –Swift

12 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. –Mrs. L. Miles

13 Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much. –Oscar Wilde

14 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

15 I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  –M. L. King

16 Make America great again. –Donald Trump

Scarriet is proud to unveil another annual (is it our eighth one already?) March Madness Poetry Tournament—in the past, we have used Best American Poetry poems, contemporary poets’ lines, aesthetic philosophy, and now we have seized the populist moment by presenting what we call a “Greatest Words” contest.  Popular speech has its own reason for existing, and the poetry (and wit) is in the brevity, obviously, but also we note that words are so adept at pointing to other things; for instance, “Make America Great Again,” (too controversial?) has worlds of meaning within it—we can ask, “What is America?” and “what does it mean to make America great, and “great again?” etc etc  One does not have to see this as a ‘pro-Trump’ entry—though an entry, nonetheless.

Let the games begin!

CHUMKI SHARMA OF CALCUTTA IS MARCH MADNESS CHAMPION!

AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME

WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS

THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC

This is the FINAL FOUR, Chumki Sharma, Maura Stanton, Lori Desrosiers, Mary Angela Douglas, with the final order of the final four, and champion!
Thanks to all who played.  Congratulations, Chumki  Sharma!

THE FINAL FOUR!!!

WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING —MAURA STANTON

THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC —MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS

I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS —LORI DESROSIERS

AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME —CHUMKI SHARMA

Marla Muse: So great to see women rocking this Scarriet Poetry March Madness tournament!

But does it matter, Marla? Doesn’t poetry transcend gender, transcend everything, in the name of beauty?

Marla Muse: Poetry transcends nothing! Transcendence is a mere intellectual idea! Poetry is the opposite of transcendence—it is more earthy than anyone realizes. It does matter that women are winning!

Okay, Marla. You don’t have to get upset.

Marla Muse: Oh Tom, you know I love you.  You’ve run a beautiful tournament. We’ve seen so many beautiful lines. And look at these lines in the final four!

Yes, we should congratulate everyone, now.  And these last four.  They are impressive.

Marla Muse: It’s so exciting. I have no words.

 

POETRY MARCH MADNESS ELITE EIGHT!!!!!

NORTH

MAURA STANTON —WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

BEN MAZER —ALL IS URGENT, JUST BECAUSE IT GIVES, AND IN THE MIRROR, LIFE TO LIFE LIFE GIVES.

 

WEST

MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS —THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC

EMILY KENDAL FREY —HOW CAN YOU LOVE PEOPLE WITHOUT THEM FEELING ACCUSED?

 

EAST

LORI DESROSIERS —I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS

JOIE BOSE —ISN’T THAT LOVE EVEN IF IT ANSWERS NOT TO THE HEART OR THE HEAT BUT TO THE MOMENT, TO MAKE IT COMPLETE?

 

SOUTH

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI  —DENIAL WON’T REDEEM YOU OR MAKE YOU LESS VULNERABLE.  MY UNWAVERING LOVE JUST MAY.

CHUMKI SHARMA  —AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME.

 

A great line of poetry is like fine cinema: you lose yourself in its message—which you arrive at, go into, stay in, and reluctantly but happily leave, feeling like everything outside is changed, that you know hunger and life a little better, a little more intimately, all because one poet in one line has made an entire film.  It is with the highest pleasure that we continue to present these winners, more winning in the judges’ eyes than the other winners: the lines of these elite eight are not only masterpieces of compression, one can die in them all day long.

Marla Muse: You say that very well, Tom. But just because you say it, does not make it so.

True, Marla. True.

Marla Muse: Don’t be sad, Tom. Look at the stars and the gates of poetry.  The stars shine for all, and the stars are all; in the circling heavens all will be well, and, look! it is perhaps well, even now.

SWEET SIXTEEN!!

Ben at Shays

Scarriet Poery March Madness first round winners have battled it out—and here are the final 16 contestants, the Sweet Sixteen!

These are extraordinary lines, evoking entire poems, entire books of poems.

Nicknames for this tournament have flooded in: The Mouse That Roared, Less Madness is More Madness, A Little Says It All, A Nutshell’s Unlimited Space.

The most common tropes in poetic history are all here in these magnificent microcosms: love, emotion, psychology, birds, music, fire, clouds, urgent definitions of time and space.

Marla Muse: I’m thrilled to death for all these poets!  What amazing lines!

We chose wisely.

Marla Muse: We did.

In the North

Maura Stanton: Who made me feel by feeling nothing

Ben Mazer: All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Jorie Graham: A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Molly Brodak: boundlessness secretly exists, I hear

In the West

Mary Angela Douglas: The larks cry out and not with music.

Cristina Sanchez Lopez: Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

In the East

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

In the South

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

Congratulations to all the winners!!!

 

 

FIRST ROUND 2016 MARCH MADNESS WINNERS!

Jennifer Moxley–How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

Jorie Graham–A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Robert Haas–So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Ben Mazer–All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Mary Angela Douglas–The larks cry out and not with music.

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

Patricia Lockwood–How will Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel marry Across Niagara Falls On A Tightrope?

Kevin Young–I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Donna Masini–Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico–apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway.

Cristina Sánchez López–Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

Marilyn Chin–It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Stephen Sturgeon–City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

Philip Nikolayev–I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Tim Seibles–That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger.

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips–It does not not get you quite wrong.

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds.

Lynn Hejinian–You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Susan Wood–The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

SUSAN WOOD AND LAWRENCE RAAB IN LAST FIRST ROUND BATTLE

Shakespeare gives his villains the best speeches—not because Shakespeare is villainous, but because he’s a good teacher.

Philosophy is the best teacher, and teaching sometimes features bad examples—in order to be good.

A good speech is always good.

Even when Iago is giving it.

No.

Because Iago is giving it.

If you are not a good philosopher, you are no poet.

In this final Scarriet Poetry March Madness First Round contest (our 32nd essay) we have two lines of an arresting philosophical nature.

Here is the first by Susan Wood:

The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

How can a line be better than a poem?

Quite easily. We sometimes see too little. But we always see too much. And for the most part, “say” can substitute for “see.”

The tantalizing aspect of this line is that yes, people do hold onto bitterness unnecessarily, so that it destroys themselves and others.

And yet, it may be a good thing for the “bitterness” to remain, for it may inspire—in those who remember it—all sorts of good—if the bitterness does not infect them.

The “simple fact” alluded to is that in either case, it is obvious to others when you “want” the bitterness to remain.

People are not as involuntary as they seem.

And yet, sometimes we can be blind for a time, and not see the obvious. Lawrence Raab:

nothing truly seen until later

But isn’t it amazing how often we do truly see at the very first moment?  And all the later complications are wrong?

But let us not argue with this line.

It will either win, or lose.

Now all of the lines in this, the 2016 Scarriet Poetry March Madness First Round, have been seen.

The final line sinks into abyss.

And we will see you later.

 

 

LES MURRAY AND JOE GREEN: FIRST ROUND BATTLE IN THE SOUTH

Language can do anything.

If you’ve read Emerson, you know how he says nature is a language, and the Poet, belonging to nature, is nature and speaks nature, and how do you like that?

Buying into this makes you either a brilliant genius or a complete fool.

If Emerson says you’re a genius, maybe that’s enough.

After all, you’re on his land, he knows Margaret Fuller, he went to the Harvard Divinity School, and he also knows T.S. Eliot’s grandfather, who founded a Unitarian church and a college in St.Louis, after he left Harvard.

Les Murray is slightly more skeptical.  He’s got a wing-ding line:

Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

What can you say to this?  You dare not say anything.  Or, you say a lot.

You can tell from this one line that Les Murray is a tough cookie, and probably wouldn’t have any problem punching Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nose, if it came to that.  (I’m not saying it would come to that.)

Joe Green is a different creature. Funny and shy.  He would apologize for being on Emerson’s land. “I’m sorry, sir. I was walking my dog and…”

Emerson would stare at him. Coldly.  For ten minutes.

Joe would be talking away.  Joe would get out his phone and ask if Emerson wanted to see pictures and stuff on the internet.

But let’s leave this scene. This is starting to get embarrassing.

Marla Muse: I don’t know why Waldo is so arrogant.

Emerson sermonized. That’s all he really did.  Here’s Joe Green’s line:

I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Joe Green is the human poet, the most human poet there is.

Marla Muse: I’m sure he will be glad you said that about him.

I can’t wait to see who wins!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRENDA HILLMAN AND LYN HEJINIAN

Poetry is most likely deemed successful if it does two things:

1. It describes what must happen.

2. It describes it as it must be described.

Most people, looking back at their lives, would say,  I could have, or should have, done it another way, sure.

Poets, however, tend to feel uneasy as poets unless they are able to say, I had to write that.

Most people might see their freedom as a certain point of pride: there’s nothing that I must do. I did that because I liked it.

But poets would almost rather say: I had to write those poems, and I had to write them as I did. I had no choice.

How else to explain the furious truth of this by Brenda Hillman:

Talking flames get rid of hell.

That had to be said. Only Brenda Hillman could have said it.

It talks of hell and how hell exists, but does not exist; it talks of how flames may or may not talk, and flames might be people or they might not be people.

It has the stamp of poetry, and there’s nothing more to say about it.

Marla Muse: What do you mean, Tom? You always have more to say.

This time I don’t.  I’m saying something which is too difficult to explain.

Marla Muse: Because Brenda Hillman said something too difficult to explain?

Yes.

Marla Muse: Tom, you are so awesome.

Thanks, Marla.

Lyn Hejinian’s line succeeds on the same principle:

You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Obviously this has many meanings.

Marla Muse: Many meanings.

Marla, if you were not here to help me, I don’t know what I’d do.

Lyn Hejinian (pictured above) wants to be loved.

So does Brenda Hillman.

This tournament shows this from a certain angle.

 

 

 

CLAUDIA RANKINE VERSUS ROWAN RICARDO PHILLIPS IN FIRST ROUND SOUTH ACTION

Claudia Rankine wants to correct wrongs with her poetry.  She has gone about it in just the right way, and has made a name for herself (in poetry circles, at least) with her indignation.

Here’s what Edgar Allan Poe had to say about the Claudia Rankine School.

In Poe’s day, it existed in the person of William Wordsworth, an early environmentalist.  Romantic Naturalists, Early Environmentalists is a useful book on the subject: it credits Wordsworth’s influence on Emerson, and Emerson’s influence on John Muir.  Poe, too, loved nature—what Poe speaks to is any faith in poetry’s utilitarian value, a broader philosophical critique of Wordsworth and his “Lake School,” which included Coleridge and Southey—these two made plans (later aborted) to travel to America and live on a commune, similar to Brook Farm—a failed experiment of the Transcendentalists, a group Poe thought rather silly.  Nature is not the issue, but what is to be done to manage and protect it properly, and how much should poetry get involved in the process, or any utilitarian project.  Here is Poe:

As I am speaking of poetry, it will not be amiss to touch slightly upon the most singular heresy in its modern history — the heresy of what is called very foolishly, the Lake School. ***

Aristotle, with singular assurance, has declared poetry the most philosophical of all writing — but it required a Wordsworth to pronounce it the most metaphysical. He seems to think that the end of poetry is, or should be, instruction — yet it is a truism that the end of our existence is happiness; if so, the end of every separate part of our existence — every thing connected with our existence should be still happiness. Therefore the end of instruction should be happiness; and happiness is another name for pleasure; — therefore the end of instruction should be pleasure: yet we see the above mentioned opinion implies precisely the reverse.

To proceed: ceteris paribus, he who pleases, is of more importance to his fellow men than he who instructs, since utility is happiness, and pleasure is the end already obtained which instruction is merely the means of obtaining.

So, according to Poe, the utilitarians err in a very fundamental manner: they present instruction as the goal of pleasure (poetry)—which makes no sense at all, if we follow the logic.

Rankine’s line is this:

How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Her opponent is Rowan Ricard Phillips, who is more, perhaps, on the pleasing end of things, but we are not sure:

It does not not get you quite wrong.

We like the double negative. We like lines that are windows into something else, and for us, this line exemplifies the idea that anything can be anything and something can be exactly something within that anything when we are using language. Though many poets do not allow language’s slipperiness to dominate their poetry, some poets do.

We leave it at that.

The winner will be chosen by the muses and the gods.

 

THE EAST: FINAL FIRST ROUND CONTEST— TIM SEIBLES AND WILLIE PERDOMO

Poetry—because it is language—should not be able to capture lightning fast, complex, perceptual moments, should it?

But look at this by the poet Willie Perdomo:

I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

Or this, by Tim Seibles (pictured above):

That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger.

Poetry is able to do this because 1) perception is not instantaneous in the eye, but belongs to the brain 2) it involves parts.

All the poet has to do is combine intelligible parts in time to capture obscurely swift reality in remarkable ways.

Easier said than done, obviously, but we usually don’t think of poetry being able to do this.

Is language doing this as language, or as an actual recording device?

This is an exciting aspect of poetry that both these contestants display for us here.

Look fast!  The winner will be exact! And quick!

Marla Muse: Tom, you are such a tantalizing tease.  Is poetry merely speech, or a device that actually sees?

 

BEN MAZER AND WARSAN SHIRE FINISH THE FIRST ROUND IN THE NORTH

Poetry cannot resemble music—unless it reduces the wealth of words to a few musical words:

Shakespeare:

For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive.

Tennyson:

Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Yeats:

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing

Why don’t the poets play this music anymore?

Is it the fear of using the same word more than once?  Remember that edict, drummed into us in school when we first learned to write good prose? Find another word. Don’t use the same word twice.

This doesn’t mean the edict, Use the same word over and over again, will necessarily work, either.

The poet Ben Mazer is fond of quoting one of his university mentors, the British critic Christopher Ricks: “There are no rules!”

But what if there is one rule: the mirror?

If there are no rules, there are no rules to break.

Some know this to be true: “There are no rules” is not a radical statement, but a conservative one.

Mirroring is done in architecture, song, painting, drama, and nature—and not long ago, in poetry.

Now the poets hardly do it at all.

The double—the reflection—the mirror—repetition—is not an artificial or old-fashioned idea..

“Dying, dying, dying” is less artificial than the most matter-of-fact prose passage in existence.

The error that has smashed the mirror is the error that has brainwashed the prose poets.

In this final first round contest in the North, Ben Mazer delivers the following:

All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Warsan Shire exploits the idea of the mirror more modestly, but powerfully:

I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

It doesn’t hurt that “mother” and “father” and “together” mirror each other, sound-wise.

The profundity of this line is as plain as the nose on one’s face—which is the best mirror there is.

 

 

 

SEAN O’BRIEN AND MELISSA GREEN KEEP THE MADNESS GOING IN NORTH BRACKET

Melissa Green studied with Derek Walcott at BU, in the same classroom Plath studied with Lowell, and was a friend of Joseph Brodsky—who considered her one of America’s best poets.

She has a challenge in going up against Sean O’Brien, who gets a rhymed couplet as his line in the tournament (though it is one sentence, one thought)—the tournament judges allowed O’Brien (short-listed for the latest T.S. Eliot Prize) to be represented this way; one of those rulings which caused some grumbling, but poetry and life are often both a grumble, and there you go.

We shall introduce O’Brien’s earnest line first, and then finish with Green’s quiet one, so she has a chance.

‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair, but these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.

This is the sort of verse-adding-power-to-rhetoric which we just don’t get much these days.

It is as if truth has its own emotion, one that verse finds—and we find this intoxicating—firebrand intellectual that we are.

Marla Muse:  I remember when God was a Poet.  This sounds like that.

Marla, you remember when that was so?

Marla Muse:  That was when He loved me.  Muse. And God.

Marla, your presence in this tournament is invaluable.

Marla Muse:  Well, of course. But I thank you, Tom.

When the devotees of the Muse approach you in their dreams, what do they say?

Marla Muse: It’s mist and wind. I feel them in my heart. Warm coins of praise. (She falls to the floor)

Marla! Are you OK?

Marla Muse: (Still in a swoon) I’m fine.

[Confusion in the tournament stadium. Order restored.]

Now here is Melissa Green’s line, and the best of luck to her:

They’ve mown the summer meadow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROBERT HASS AND TRACI BRIMHALL IN FIRST ROUND NORTH BRACKET BATTLE

The very, very small things, the mundane things, are immensely important.  The mighty know this.

But it’s one thing to take care of the small things—quite another to obsess over them.

Somewhere between the slob who does not care and the fop who does, genius lies.

To win, all you have to do is be in the middle somewhere.  Just avoid extremes.  Be energetic, but avoid the edges.

Marla Muse: Are you talking basketball, or poetry?

Both.

And chess. Chess players always say: control the middle of the board. A piece in the middle of a chessboard is potentially stronger, because it has more moves.

Getting yourself in the middle of the action (or passing to your teammates in the middle of the action) produces opportunities in a game of basketball.

And in poetry, one must be understood in a beautiful manner: looking good and being understood are middlebrow all the way.

We don’t know if Robert Hass, one of the better known American poets alive today, is a genius, but he is astute enough to know what we have outlined above.  Here is his line:

So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

How true!

Traci Brimhall, an up and coming poet, has an exquisite line which works an ordinary image: a seashell.

Many lesser poets wouldn’t dare to write about a seashell.

Lesser poets would consider a seashell to lie too far towards the middle ground of Poetry Land.

Can’t you see the avant-garde poet scratching his beard, and with a smirk, saying, No.

The avant-garde poet is wrong. The center is where you want to go. The genius instinctively knows that the uncanny and the beautiful dwell more in the feelings and objects everyone knows than anywhere else.

Here is Traci Brimhall’s line:

I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea.

If we have spelled her line right, we believe Traci Brimhall’s chances in the tournament are awfully good.

 

 

MORE FIRST ROUND NORTH ACTION: ANNE CARSON AND MOLLY BRODAK

Hearing is what we do when we read poetry.

Some people think we see poetry.  We don’t.

We are capable of seeing things in our minds, and some see certain things more clearly in their minds than others, but poetry is not what people see.

Some theorists—who talk a great deal about “image” in poems—will disagree.

This was the great error Modernism made.

These pedants can talk about “image” all they want.

Poetry is never seen.

This is why we are especially enamored of the two lines in this contest.

The first one, from Anne Carson, has a desperate urgency which affects us deeply:

don’t keep saying you don’t hear it too

By denying sight to poetry, we don’t want to seem merely contrary and dense, as if poetry were nothing more than trembling inside an ear.  Of course it is more.

Poetry—to be poetry—must possess a certain philosophical delicacy—it must make an impression on our being-within-the-world.

Does this sound too German?  Es tut mir leid.

The second line, from Molly Brodak (pictured above), is philosophical, yet without Carson’s urgency; it is lovely and languid, and we know Marla Muse will love it:

boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Marla Muse: Oh God. I do like it.

Marla, Marla, I hear one of these poets must win and move on.

 

 

 

BACK TO THE NORTH: MARY OLIVER VERSUS CHARLES HAYES

There are two types of nature poets: those who use nature to comfort, and those who use it to scare. Nature can do both.

Nature poets must realize that we—the humans, the poets—don’t call the shots.  Nature does.

We always think of Ted Hughes when we think of a nature poet who makes nature scary.

As far as the other kind of nature poet, we usually think of Thoreau, who has a certain poetry in his diaries, or, of course, Wordsworth.

Love nature, you silly humans, is what the typical bombastic, tedious, boring, sentimental nature poet does, and, if we equate God and nature, which we can easily do, we include the priests.

Wordsworth is duller than Byron, Shelley, and Keats, because this is what he does sometimes.

Shakespeare can’t be called a nature poet; in the Sonnets, Shakespeare says, Since I love you, respect nature.

According to Shakespeare, nature does two things: it kills and it reproduces.  Nature is not a comfort to Shakespeare, but a prod.

Nature, for the old priests, and the old poets who write of death, is a prod of God.

For nature poets like Mary Oliver, nature is God, our comfort and salvation.

Mary Oliver takes on the role for herself of what she perceives nature to be, a very kind mother, and she comforts us with these words:

You do not have to be good.

The other poet in this contest, Charles Hayes, loves nature, too; he published a book on saving the Hudson river.

But we were just looking for good lines of poetry for March Madness, and we liked this by Charles Hayes for its compression and drama:

Her sweaty driver knows his load his fair.

It has a certain chivalrous pathos that we like.

It doesn’t have a moral.

File it under, “You don’t have to be good.”

Good versus fair.

Now that’s a contest.

 

CRISTINA SÁNCHEZ LÓPEZ AND DENISE DUHAMEL IN MORE FIRST ROUND WEST ACTION

We have to be careful with poetry.  It is likely to be like a looking glass in which we enter—and never return.

But of course poetry will immediately laugh, and ask, “Return?  Return to where?”

Poetry should not be laughing, because poetry can swallow us up, and bring us down to Hades—and force us to live in a world without light—it can.

The others, the non-poets, walk about in a cloud of language; language arms them, language lives inside their heads, and yet, in the sunshine, among other non-poets, among painters, and advertising executives, they are free.

Only the poets are forced to live in darkness.

In that darkness fungi grow, and with the gentle lapping of the swamp waters in the back of the poet’s brain, the poet will answer you slowly, “What? What did you say?”

In the fantasy we have just drawn, poets are different; but of course they are not.

The laughter of the poet is true.

The poet cannot be brought anywhere, or returned anywhere.  The poet breathes the fresh air of heaven. And can talk and sing and paint. Poetry just helps the poet a little bit to be in all ways more human.

As da Vinci the painter boasted, poetry means nothing to an animal, but a painter, with his depictions, can fool any bestial eye.

Poems live with humans—but are really not such a bad thing for that.  Animals, after all, are delightful for being like humans; humans are not charming who act like animals.

Denise Duhamel has fashioned a line from deep, human, sorrow. Poetry can travel, if it wishes, into dim realms of human shame:

it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires

Does this line make us feel sorry for the poet? Or is it beyond the person, and hinting at a secret truth: beauty and desire will always be the same, and in them, feeling and seeing are the same, and this is a torture that kills us all?

Cristina Sánchez López (pictured above) is letting her line of poetry take us upwards, towards the light, even as she gently reminds us with her line that poetry belongs more to hearing and time than to realms or regions—although we know there can be regions of pure sound:

Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

To forget occurs in time. But what do we forget?  Ourselves. Poetry is the self living in time. Poetry is faith that time will make us beautiful. Poetry belongs to this region, to this region the poets, and those who love them, constantly return.

ANDREW KOZMA, NATALIE SCENTERS-ZAPICO IN WEST BRACKET BATTLE

Edgar Poe talked of two kinds of writing:

One discloses what we ourselves had thought before.

The other seems to us wholly original.

Either one gains our approval, though in the case of the former, we may remark to ourselves, “how could it be that no one has observed this before?”

So it is with this lovely line by Natalie Scenters-Zapico:

apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

One could listen to this line all day, and one can see all sorts of things in it (man vs. nature, etc) as one listens to it.

Andrew Kozma’s line is more complex because it does not have the easily recognizable, profound clarity of his opponent’s line:

what lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

This line has several parts: We have “lies” between two people, separated by love of the “living” and love of the “dead.” There is a delicious ambiguity which intoxicates us—due to a misty evocation of that border line between life and death, and the love which can attend on both.

The implication is that these are powerful lies (“what lies we tell”) and the stark contrast maintains its delightful ambiguity in the context of these two must be lovers.

Is the poet boasting that he loves the “living,” whereas his poor, sorry lover merely loves the “dead?”  This is one possible reading, and if this was all the line was saying, it would be weak.  But the ghosts of the “dead” will not be turned away from this line, and its mysteries, and this doubt makes the line very powerful.

Poor poetry must use doubts to be strong.

Be strong, Andrew.

You might still win this thing.

 

 

MORE WEST ACTION: ROSS GAY VERSUS DONNA MASINI

We at Scarriet have never really liked poetry that does not use punctuation, or uses a great deal of white space.

Written speech is not a magic island or a fancy island in a white sea; it is just an island: what the words and punctuation say is what the poem says.

We have always found Charles Olson and Ezra Pound dubious, if not offensively stupid, in their efforts to overturn the “old poetry” with “new” notions of gnosis and transformative knowledge, in which body and breath liberate us from time and space, escaping old dualisms and old habits, blah blah blah. No one defending this silly stuff has ever proved any of it, even for a second.  It exists only in the minds of the gulled. Early 20th century manifesto-ism nearly killed poetry, yet scholars still speak in hushed, reverent terms of: H.D., Imagiste.

We are confident that nothing we say on this subject will change anyone’s mind—in fact it may convert a few against us.  Psychology is the great anti-science amassed against the reasonable: it laughs at reason’s reasons.

Ross Gay has a line which skips punctuation, but we are sure what we have said will not prejudice anyone against it.

If we argue for punctuation in all instances, we may still like the following, anyway:

One never knows does one how one comes to be.

We hear does one? as a stage aside.  The lack of punctuation gives the line a dramatic turn.  The mystery involves punctuation; the limb works when it is gone.  It is like what Mozart said about music living between the notes.  But of course you still need the notes, Herr Mozart.

Some of us believe punctuation belongs to speech, but not thought—do all of us think without punctuation?  Alright go downstairs now it is probably warm out now don’t forget your jacket.

Or perhaps very intelligent people think with punctuation added.  Who knows?

If there is one notion pondered more than any other by intelligent people, it might be this one: One never knows, does one, how one comes to be. 

And perhaps this is another thing which makes Ross Gay’s line interesting:

Because it has no punctuation, it resembles a line “inside our heads,” a thought.

But the use of “does one,” makes it sound like the poet is talking to someone.

If one were writing it more as a “pure thought,” one might write it this way: How did I come to be?

Donna Masini, the poet matched up with 5th seeded Gay in this West Bracket contest, has a line which sounds a similar note of reckless resignation: a tragic resignation, and yet with a shrug, or even a smile.

Gay and Masini might be reflecting the fact that stoicism and resignation have replaced Romantic yearning since Edna Millay went out of style among highbrows as Modernism took over the academy in the 30s and 40s.  Recall how Millay, pondering death, was “not resigned?”  Poets today are more likely to say, Oh gee, fuck it, I’m trapped, gotta die.

Masini: Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Masini could be addressing this line to Millay, herself, who, it was rumored, carried on a bit in the sexual department.

Dear Edna. Even sex is no exit (from the predicament of mortality).

But then we have the wonderful,  “Ah, you exist.”  Which is just wonderful, and we are not sure exactly why it so wonderful, but we suspect it has a little to do with the fact that “exit” and “exist” are alike in sound, and the sound of the word “sex” hides in “exit” and “exist,” too.

Masini’s line uses punctuation, which recommends it.

For even if the poet is thinking this to themselves, they could think, “Even sex is no exit.”  And then walk for half an hour, and then think, “Ah, you exist.”  We like that.

Not so if it looked like this: Even sex is no exit ah you exist.

Just so you know: we like Masini’s chances.

But Gay has a good chance in poetry march madness you never know do you.

KEVIN YOUNG AND MEREDITH HASEMANN CLASH IN THE WEST

In the old romance movies, women could not make up their minds in love, and the gallant men who loved them carried on calmly until they did. Chaos was a female weakness to be overcome by male sacrifice and stoicism.

Today, we laugh at this old notion, and think more along the lines that chaos or indecision lies more with the male gender, and, secondly, all kinds of chaos in general is actually the true way of things.

Romance movies haven’t changed that much, romance being what it is.

But a lot of people will still say that chaos is life, not art.  A chaotic poem is boring, even though chaotic life may be thrilling.

The poets, however, like most intellectuals, are not really worried about chaos.  Chaos is now kind of cool. The intellectuals have accepted it.

What is not cool in the eyes of the poets and the intellectuals is modern life’s unthinking bad taste.  Intellectuals are consumed with how much society sucks.

Chaos?  Death?  Who cares about that.  The real tragedy of life?  Fast food.

We see these ideas expressed in this Round One West Bracket contest between the poets Kevin Young and Meredith Hasemann.

I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Kevin Young is having great fun here, and the line is delightful. And behind it all, we hear the criticism of the “fast food” way of life, as if a McDonald’s cheeseburger was, in fact, the end of civilization.

Hasemann complains similarly.  The ways and manners and devices of mankind encroach upon the freedom of nature:

The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

So we want the female to be free.

To eat men.

Fried in cheese.

This should be an interesting contest.

 

 

 

PATRICIA LOCKWOOD AND CANDACE WILEY IN WEST BRACKET BATTLE

The poet is no different than anyone else: there is a middle ground of normalcy which they need to work in, to get along with others and be understood. It doesn’t matter how obscure the vocation—and the more obscure, the more it is understood that there is an acceptable swath of acceptable behavior required to be accepted in that niche.

Motorcycle clubs demand leather and black and if you stray from the norm you will be seen as a freak—by the other freaks. This paradox needs to be pointed out to understand what everyone is up against.

The great middle ground of acceptable behavior is much, much larger than we often realize, and to “think outside the box” has to be done in the context of the “box,” so that even to rebel is to do so in the context of normal. So, John Lennon’s “Imagine,” for instance, is a very religious song—if you look at it the right way.

Some people think that to be “poetic” is to be out of the mainstream.

No.

The “poetic” is more mainstream than the mainstream.

All radicalism comes out of the mainstream and goes back into the mainstream, in order to truly corrupt the mainstream—if it can. The mainstream wins in 99 cases out of 100, and simply drowns you: That poem? It sounds like a million others.

And in that one instance when the “mainstream” is changed or defeated, it is done by showing the mainstream itself, in a very clever way, how to be more mainstream than it was before. The “revolution” is for “the people,” right? And what is more mainstream than “the people?”

Here, then, is the mystery of radicalism and fame, beauty and fame, poetry and fame.

The mainstream hates fame.

The mainstream is the mass of people who give you completely blank looks when you read them a “famous” poem.

The mainstream wants to eat cookies on a green couch and then find a better machine to get the crumbs out of the inside of the couch.

The mainstream will never care about your poem—even if your poem is about cookie crumbs in a couch. Especially if it is about that. Or about cookies. They want to eat cookies, not hear a poem about cookies.

Poetry is not dirty, filthy, life. This may be a mainstream comment, and yes, it is a mainstream comment.

The mainstream is where you find fame, but the mainstream will do everything it can do to prevent you from being famous. The moment you pander to the mainstream, you will drown in that great swath of normalcy which is where fame goes to die. The mainstream will only be famous on its own terms—and all of us on the outside know what that’s about. And the famous? They are on the green couch giving an interview. And they are not poets.

So you are working in this niche called poetry—and within the poetry niche is a bigger swath of mainstream than in the world outside the niche of poetry. Yes, that’s right. The smaller and more specialized the niche, the more peer pressure there will be to conform to the rules—spoken or unspoken—of that niche.

If you act like a jerk in a bar, someone will let you know within two hours.

If you’re not the right fit in a sewing club, you will find out in two minutes.

If you can’t sing, and try to sing in a choir, you will find out in two seconds.

If you walk into a formal gathering wearing informal clothes, you will find out in 2/10 of a second.

But if you hang out and get along, how will you be famous? How will you be an interesting poet?

The answer?

First, belong to no clique, or club. If you are a poet, stay the hell away from all “poetry clubs.” Or, hang out in them with secret animosity and ridicule.

Second, see what the mainstream is doing, what it wants, on a very practical level, and then replicate and exaggerate what the mainstream strives to do to meet this most primitive need in the most obvious manner, and present it to the mainstream in the most efficient way possible, genre and niche be damned.  A classic example of this is Dante inventing the modern lyric by viewing the new poetry as simply a love letter to a girl who had no Latin.

Patricia Lockwood—her poem, “The Rape Joke” went viral on social media a few years ago—is currently the coolest poet living today—trust me, she is; but it is the very nature of cool to die fast—so says the mainstream. So, as her window closes, we present her line:

How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel Marry Across Niagara Falls on a Tightrope?

Candace Wiley will be immediately recognized, from her line, as a worthy opponent in the super cool department:

My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.

The cool, anti-mainstream poets live in a vast forest of mainstream symbols:

Niagara Falls! Your honeymoon destination! Your place to risk your life in a barrel! Barbie! Greatest Racist Sexist Mainstream Doll of All Time!

Lockwood versus Wiley is a vast contest in a vast middle ground.

March Madness cannot contain them.

The tickets are going fast for this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A.E. STALLINGS AND ADA LIMÓN MIX IT UP IN THE WEST

Sometimes we are amazed at how close poetry is to music.

Both arts tells us what to listen for in time.

Music can be explained as simply as this: here is a musical note—and now—listen to this one which follows. What is this? This thing called music? It has its own interest. It is nothing in itself and the composer can even dally behind the listener, so easily does the whole thing move forward entirely on its own.

A.E. Stallings is simply being a musician when she says:

The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Music vibrates our ears; the effect is involuntary, and poets—the good ones—play music by making the poetry as involuntary as possible.

Which means being as deliberate and definite as possible.

The poet should leave no doubt as to what the tune is; and should not be like an out-of-tune instrument—which is the most unpleasant thing it is possible to hear.

The poet should not waffle.

“The woes were words.”

The absolute equivalence makes a lovely sound. Woes, words. Got it. And now we are ready for: “and the only thing left was quiet.”

So there are no more words, Stallings says.

But wait. Quiet is a word.  A dovetailing harmony. A play on words. The operation is musical as much as it enters our mind without effort. If we are aware of effort, or contrivance, it irks us like a pun, and is a lower order of poetry for that.

This line by Ada Limón (pictured above) has a loveliness that plays the instrument of the poetic faculty effortlessly, and is all the better a line because of this.

Her word “ours”‘strikes our senses like a beautiful chord (and sung perhaps by a choir?)

just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours

To make this music, our poet must be precise, as “disorderly” as those clouds may be.

In the hush that follows, judgement, like a lizard, flicks its tongue.

We must pick a winner. But the song is barely sung.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAPHAEL RUBINSTEIN AND LORI DESROSIERS: FIRST ROUND EAST

The best competition is love.

These two poets—Rubenstein and Desrosiers—in this Scarriet Poetry March Madness battle, could never, in their wildest imaginations, imagine this contest: their lines meeting in any manner, much less like this.

We are only imagining it now ourselves, without a clue as to the outcome. We imagined a Madness, and that’s all we really needed to do.

In the lines themselves, we see the extent of these poets’ far reaching imaginations.

Says Raphael Rubinstein:

Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

But is this imagination? Isn’t this just plain fact?  The fact that we write for others?

To answer this question, we’ll say this:

It is never a matter of something being factual—or not. It is never that simple. The fact that we write for others can be overturned in an instant—because pure solipsism is possible in writing, and perhaps even preferred, if not the actual fact, since we can be our own audience—we couldn’t write coherently, otherwise. So here we see Rubinstein’s wounded fact—“every poet thinks…” is merely something he is imagining. He imagines he has an audience, when he really doesn’t. And yet, for his line to be read and understood, he does—have an audience.

So Rubinstein, in his line, is imagining—and yet not. Factual—and yet not.

His wit is on display, and we are not sure whether he should be applauded for it, or whipped.

I think we can praise him. The greatly imaginative are always partly factual and partly not.

It is not so much that imagination loves facts—as facts love imagination. The world loves its God.

Now comes Desrosiers to add a beautiful idea to what has been said:

I wish you were just you in my dreams.

How deliciously and wonderfully ironic.

We wish and dream for what is neither wished nor dreamed.

We want the facts—in our dreams.

And we don’t want them anywhere else.

We want to wish for our facts, but not have them.

We want to dream our audience even as we know the last thing they are is a dream.

The poem becomes a fact when it hovers in the mind as a desire for a fact.

This March Madness contest may just be the strangest one so far.

And whose fault is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PODDAR AND KASISCHKE GO A LITTLE BIT MAD IN THE MADNESS

Kushal Poddar is in the 2016 Madness

It is becoming more and more apparent to Americans—who, for all their worldly clout and influence, have recently become fixated on their Writing Program careers—that, holy cow!, there is something happening on the other side of the globe, in India, where totally mad people prepare for bed just when they should be waking up—don’t these people know how crazy that is? Well, give them a little credit: in India right now they are writing poems in English in the great Romantic Tradition, and, despite not attending writing programs, and despite their odd sleeping habits, poets from India are, at this very moment, writing better poetry than Americans—with the exception of Ben Mazer, who is a living Romantic Tradition unto himself: pilgrimages should be made to Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA—near Harvard Square.

Philip Nikolayev, an American, Harvard-educated poet, originally from Russia, had the good sense to go to India, and, to make a long story short, social media has led Scarriet to a world of heartbreak and beauty in which poetry exists as sweetly and commonly as a scent of perfume or a right arm.

In America, poets study at Writing Programs.

These costly one-year or two-year programs essentially teach the student of poetry one thing: Do not write like Keats—sound, in your writing, as different from Keats as possible, and this will guarantee that you will sound contemporary, and sound like yourself, because, after all, you are not Keats, and this is a good thing, since Keats is in the ground! We cannot tell you how to sound, for that is too complicated, given that poetry can sound like absolutely anything, it being defined by nothing, and so we cannot teach that; all we can do is make sure you don’t sound like Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Edna Millay. They are dead! Dead! Be a student of English literature if you want to sound like the dead. And, by the way, did we tell you the field of study at one time called the English Major is also dead? Good. Talk amongst yourselves, students, and commence writing! And just remember, I, with my degree from one of the most distinguished writing programs in the world, will be watching, to make sure you do not ever write like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Or anyone with three names! Horrors! Better to be known simply as Trudy. Or Billy. Or Sam. And write. poetry. like. this.

Laura Kasischke is a writing program graduate, and yet has still managed to distinguish herself as a poet of wonderful ability: she is known to write complete, comprehensible, sentences on comprehensible topics. This may be due to the fact, however, that she is also a successful novelist.

Her champion is Stephen Burt, a rising poetry critic star who teaches with Jorie Graham at Harvard; Burt broke into the big time with a damning piece in the Boston Globe on Foetry.com, Alan Cordle’s website which exposed systemic poetry contest cheating and reputation puffing in academic American poetry. It was fun, enlightening, painful (for people like Graham) depending on where you were on the map of poetry reputation. Everyone, due to Foetry.com’s influence, which was quite extensive, is sadder—but wiser. Wisdom has quietly turned to joy—and one can see it in Scarriet’s “To Sir With Love” exuberance.  Burt has edited an anthology of sonnets—the tacit assumption that sonnets were once written can be made with impunity once in a while, if a publisher is willing to suffer a material, if not a spiritual, loss.

Kasischke had one of the better poems in the latest (2015) Best American Poetry, Sherman Alexie, guest editor (The BAP Series has been edited by David Lehman since 1988) and we found her best line there:

but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Affection produced in prose language can, by its directness and homeliness, be extremely touching. Poetry can be iconic, but that doesn’t mean prose cannot occasionally outdo poetry by being more affectionate in its plainess. Prose may sometimes catch us off guard by smelling sweeter than poetry. This confuses the poets, who then proceed to drown themselves in the sea which the plain talkers successfully sail. Kasischke, we might entertain for a paranoid moment, might owe her success to this anti-poetry phenomenon.

Any language we do not understand sounds poetic to our helpless ears; as we come to understanding we come away from poetry, and by this formula the more purely prosaic we sound the more we understand and what we understand is the falsity of the one we once loved, dear poetry, the one who seduced us in a castle about 200 years ago in a frilly shirt—and now must die.

One solution to not sound prosaic and not sound 19th-century either, as a poet, is surrealism.

Kushal Poddar, from Calcutta, a self-taught genius, Kasischke’s opponent, writes very exciting poetry in a pyrotechnical inventiveness that fits the short, lyrical form to the unusual image—he never has a red wheel barrow in his poetic landscape unless that wheel barrow is fully on fire, and that is how he expresses his passions and his desires. Here is his line:

Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Poddar, like a true poet, suggests as much as he presents—the shadows produced by his mind are as lovely as the flames. We think him one of the better poets in the world writing in English, and one more reason to visit Calcutta—if you can get your head out of your résumé.

So which will win? The plain-speaking or the fire?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE EAST BRACKET: MICHAEL TYRELL BATTLES JOIE BOSE

Joie Bose belongs to the Calcutta New Wave of English-speaking poetry.

Romanticism, which began with Dante’s Beatrice-devotion in Florence in the 13th century—and peaked with Shelley six centuries later, is poetry which belongs to passion, not study, but is no less artful or beautiful because of that.

Some would say it is more artful and beautiful because of that.

The irritable Dante—Edgar Poe said all poets, as a rule, were “irritable”—called hazy, obscure poets foolish, and credited the “love letter” as the clarifying, accessible impetus for the new poetry of the 13th century.

The lover gives poetry to the beloved; poetry can be cooked up for other reasons, but the simple desire to impress and please in love, carries with it all that is necessary to make poetry sublime.

Love forces us to be philosophers—and poets.  The poet emerges from this universal experience.  Most of what emerges is, of course, not worth reading.

But forced to be a philosopher is always better than choosing to be one.

If love makes us poets, it does not follow that love makes us good poets—love doesn’t care about poetry.  Love would rather we do not write poetry—and love, instead.

Writing begins in sorrow and absence.   And nothing creates sorrow and absence like love’s tribulations.  So this, in a broad sense, recommends love as an engine of writing.

True, love kills poets as quickly as it creates them, for the very thing that fires up the lover burns the lover to a crisp.

It follows, then, that most love poetry will be bad, since the lover is writing—when they should be loving. The lover is writing, and that usually means writing a complaint—instead of kissing; writing—instead of applying scents and sighing.

When we find then, a poet, who has survived the fires of love, and is producing more fires of love in poetry, this is worth celebrating.

Alexander Pope: “The proper study of mankind is man.” If this is true, there is nothing like love to make us ponder another.

It is not just that love is a good subject for poetry—it is the best subject for poetry—and love is not just the best subject to write about; more importantly, it is the best condition to be in, to write poetry.  And now we see how the magic happens: the subject and the condition mutually feed each other.

Joie Bose has not been trained, like American poets these days, in a writing program.  She writes from the heart. She is writing a sequence of poems called “Love,” which has just reached 100 poems.

Here is her line selected for the tournament:

Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

This is a beautiful, moving, finely crafted line of poetry, as good as any that’s been written, and anyone who doesn’t think so has either had too little experience with poetry in English—or perhaps too much, in a fussy writing program.

The question Bose asks belongs to the Socratic philosopher—and the lover:

“Isn’t that love?”

The devotee of love seeks answers, and “love,” properly worshiped, hovers over this whole line.

“Love” in the line quickly transforms into “it,” and we hear the ‘t’ sound—“love” is distinguished in this line as the only important word which does not have a ‘t’ sound, for there follows “not,” “heart,” “heat,” “moment,” and “complete.”  The disquisition, transcending the two things we mostly associate with love, “heart” and “heat,” wings its way to “completion,”and ends in the most tragic, fragile thing imaginable: the “moment.”

And yet, if love can be complete in the “moment,” does this not recommend it?  Or not?  It is the sort of philosophy which feeds, and is fed by, love.

Michael Tyrell survived a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa to produce this wonderful line:

how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Poets, after 100 years of Modernism (dry) and Post-Modernism (jokey) find they want to talk about love and beauty again.

With this line, Tyrell does have a chance against Bose.

A beautiful battle for the ages.

 

IN THE SOUTH: CHUMKI SHARMA VERSUS TERRANCE HAYES

The philosopher Hegel said an interesting thing about language: when we say “this” we refer to something very specific—and yet nothing is more vague than the word “this.”

The poet is forever not saying something—which is the agonizing and beautiful aspect of poetry poets either die from, or love, or both.

A playwright can write a character, and that character will never say “this” and be doubted, for there, standing upon the stage, the character can tell the audience where to look.

In a poem, a “this” must remain vague, for a poem is not, like a play, “acted” or “embodied.”  The poem will always be the letter read by the actor—and must depend on no body at all.

This contest features Terrance Hayes—who feels an obligation to be exact, swimming mightily upstream against the inexpressible flow of poetry itself, and Chumki Sharma—more satisfied to let poetry take her downward to the immensity of the mysterious sea.

Terrance Hayes:

Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

Hayes, who has recently won a major national award, is a black American who writes in and from this experience—this one, the one of being a black American male.

How much does a line of poetry know its author?

Can a line of poetry invoke a narrative?  And what kind?

Chumki Sharma:

After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Sharma, a woman from India, who has two Pushcart nominations, and belongs to the New Wave of Calcutta poetry, writes from what seems a thousand experiences.

We see how much one of her lines can hold, for her language is the experience itself—it is not pointing to “this” rain, or “this” place, or “this” home, and yet we feel, most acutely, rain and place and home.  The rain either did not do enough, or it produced a flood; the leaving could be voluntary, or not; the home is “called” home and therefore could be home, or not.  Chumki Sharma invokes a great deal by being exact and inexact at once.

The subjective fever becomes ours—we “catch” what she is saying, even if we do not see the rain or the place or the home.

The rhythm of the line is exquisite—trochaic: DA-da, the melancholy rhythm of Edgar Poe: AF-ter/ EVE-ry/ RAIN i/ LEAVE the/ PLACE for/ SOME-thing/ CALLED HOME.

Sharma’s “i” (self) is “obliterated” (rhythmically) by “rain,” and her line, a purely trochaic one, finally resolves in the spondaic “called home,” a delicate double meaning: home is what it is called—and someone is calling her home.

Hayes is doing something completely different; he is inviting the reader to see something specific: “the servant ordered down on all fours.” The Hayes line trades in talk, not song—the Sharma, by comparison, sounds like an aria—although this line of Hayes does have a trochaic character, and also ends with a spondee: “all fours.”

Whoever “ordered” the “servant…down on all fours” is not the poet; a certain objectivity is the goal, even as the poet tells us, “let us imagine…”

It is probably unfair for these two lines to do battle—they are so different, and yet isn’t poetic language capable of existing always as poetic language?   Otherwise, how can we even know what a poem is, or discuss poetry?

Should we walk away from this contest?

No.  Bring it on.

Which line pleases us more—as poetry?

And can this answer be cruel—or unfair?

Who should we ask, after this rain has fallen, after this tale of the servant has been told?

 

 

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI TANGLES WITH RICHARD WILBUR IN THE SOUTH

Richard Wilbur, back at the end of the 20th century, told Peter Davison, then poetry editor of the Atlantic, “I love Bill Williams’s poems but his critical opinions seem to me to be nonsense. He was forever saying that if you write a sonnet you are making a curtsey to the court of Elizabeth I–”

Well, Dick, in some ways, Bill (WC Williams) was right.

The sonnet, as a form, just has a way of sounding polite and respectful, no matter how many ‘bad words’ you toss in there.

But on the other hand, is this a bad thing?

In a nutshell, this is what went completely wrong with American poetry in the early 20th century—and we still have not recovered.

American poetry split decisively into two camps: and both were dead wrong.

And the fatal error was thinking the choice you had was only between these two.

One camp, let’s call it the WC Williams camp, said: Get rid of the sonnet!

The other camp, let’s call it the Richard Wilbur camp, said, But we can make the sonnet impolite!

The truth is: the sonnet, as a form, is polite, and there’s nothing at all wrong with this.

A form, like the sonnet, which always sounds polite, no matter how selfish and rude the author, is a wonderful invention—a gift to the world.

But it shows nothing but ignorance of form in general to then assume that all forms are like the sonnet.

Just as it is ignorant to insist that poetry should not be beautiful, or romantic, or worshipful, or respectful, if that is, indeed, what certain forms do best.  If you want to slap a person in the face, use your hand.  And yet a curtsey, depending on to whom it is made, or where, or when, can be even more devastating than a slap.

Nalini Priyadarshni, from Punjab, India, enters our 2016 March Madness Tournament with the following:

Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Poetry once appealed to sentiment and fed on sentiment and grew large and popular on sentiment and quieted crowds with sentiment and gloried in sentiment.

Until one day, poetry was demeaned and shamed with the relatively recent term (early 20th century) that’s entirely pejorative: sentimental. 

One can see Pound in the transition period using the word sentimentical.

This line of Priyadarshni’s (singing with a strong iambic/anapestic rhythm) could defeat armies.

Richard Wilbur, who is 95, and honored with the second seed in the South, very much belongs to that overly-intellectual century (the 20th) in which poetry lost its way, asserting itself in thousands of tragically over-thought strategies.

Here is Wilbur asserting himself, without sentiment, as poets in the American 20th century were wont to do, strongly, forcefully (one can almost hear the fist thumping on the desk: not, not, not!):

not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Wilbur was a formalist, and like so many formalists in the 20th century, had to apologize for it in all sorts of unconscious ways, yearning to be serious, but falling into spasms of light verse here and there, almost against his will; writing as delicately as he could with a modesty that signaled to his peers he wanted nothing to do with courts and queens and monuments.

This contest is sentiment—of the most loving and powerful kind: Priyadarshni—against whatever it was respected poets were trying to do in the 20th century: Wilbur.

Who will win?

 

 

AND NOW ROUND ONE IN THE WEST: GLÜCK AND DOUGLAS!

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Mary Angela Douglas? She is what used to be called a fugitive poet, the word, “fugitive” hinting, with a shudder of mysterious delight, a poet of amateur genius, unrecognized to all but a few fellow travelers. They move past clouds of shrubbery with quiet, solemn, discernment and delight, through wooded paths, towards those broad future plains where celebrants dance in unrestrained ecstasy.

We met Mary on Scarriet, when she responded positively and enthusiastically to Scarriet’s defense of embattled North Carolina poet laureate Valerie Macon.

Mary Angela Douglas permits us to see the adventures taking place in her “eternal child” soul—there is no need for her to research a piece of poetry, to fidget and stare into dust-mote space while she thinks of “a word.” Starlight brings her words, and poetry-light beams up from her like a fountain.

Louise Glück, meanwhile, comes adorned with recognitions and medals, but no less a poet for that, since her poetry shows at times it is wiser than prizes. The muses’ shadows cover the brightest fish in the stream (that brightness is just a dream); all are equal where the green water falls with a chuckle on the green rock.

Mary Angela Douglas has nothing to fear.

This is Scarriet, where the excellence of poetry lives in the veins that sing quietly in hands.

As the first seed, Louise Glück is accorded the honor of going first. She speaks.

The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

The darknesses of this line are thrilling; we see a million shapes between our midnight and our brains. This line has muscle, like an eel waiting patiently in a cave beneath the sea.

Mary Angela Douglas approaches the podium with a flutter; her excitement is palpable. The stately Glück left profundity in her wake. Douglas stirs in the mossy stream. We see the reflection of a wren. The boughs hover.

With utterance of raindrop wings, Douglas:

The larks cry out and not with music.

This contest, between these two women—it has some strange import, we feel.

Poetry seems forever changed.

The ghost of Shelley comes to the edge of the wood.

 

 

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