THE CHAMPIONSHIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a wasted word or syllable is allowed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

DAIPAYAN NAIR V. SUSHMITA GUPTA

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

EVERYTHING HURTS/EVEN THAT/WHICH SEEMS LIKE LOVE

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

Thank you to all.

 

 

 

THE FINAL FOUR!!

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

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

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

What’s more interesting?

A poem?

A ball thrown towards a hoop?

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

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Here’s the Final Four contests:

In the Bold Bracket—–

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

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

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In the Mysterious Bracket—–

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

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

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In the Life Bracket—–

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

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

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In the Beautiful Bracket—–

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

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

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

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

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Mysterious Bracket action…

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

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

WHERE ARE WE? LET’S MAKE LOVE.

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Over in the Life Bracket

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

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

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And finally in the Beautiful Bracket...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE ELITE EIGHT!! POETRY MARCH MADNESS ’19

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

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

Scarriet’s Poetry March Madness began in 2010.

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

BOLD bracket

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

MYSTERIOUS bracket

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

LIFE bracket

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

BEAUTIFUL bracket

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

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AND NOW…

Reaching the Elite Eight!!

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

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

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

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

Congratulations to the surviving poets!

 

THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET PLAYS FOR SWEET SIXTEEN

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

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

Because the talkers stop talking when beauty enters the room.

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

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

Or so most poets think.

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

Beauty does not mean merely “pretty.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Angela Douglas advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

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

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

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

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

Jennifer Robertson has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sushmita Gupta wins. Welcome to the Sweet Sixteen!

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MORE LIFE BRACKET ACTION, SECOND ROUND

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Danez Smith goes for Sweet 16

In so many fields of study, categories matter.

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

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

But what of the poetry itself?

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

But look at this matchup:

Danez Smith “I call your mama mama”

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

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

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

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

What makes us call these two very different things poetry?

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

Mach Madness must go on.

It is almost April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A poet names objects to bring them back.

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

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

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

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

The laptop. Fremont’s Pass.

The game—this crying thing—must end.

The “greedy laptop” wins.

Divya Guha advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

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

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

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

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

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

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

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

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

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

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

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

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LIFE BRACKET, SECOND ROUND

Modernism attempted to shrug off traditions.

It failed. Or did it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the oldest traditions is sports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If TRUTH be told, the THEFT began a TIME before

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

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

that SUM-mer DAY.

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

But still Logan wins.

Willam Logan has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

MYSTERIOUS BRACKET, SECOND ROUND

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What are we doing when we read poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you see why?

It sets us up. And delivers.

Srividya Sivakumar describes for us what she’s doing:

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

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

It’s wonderfully done.

We love this line.

But Jennifer Barber wins.

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are but a tongue!

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

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

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

****

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

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sridala Swami counters with a difficulty which is almost mathematical.

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

The line suggests set theory.

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

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

It is power versus charm.

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

****

BEAUTIFUL BRACKET—THE END OF ROUND ONE

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Sushmita Gupta is the sixth seed in the Beautiful Bracket:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sushmita Gupta wins.

****

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

“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

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

C.P. Surendran tackles the pearls with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowd goes wild.

C.P. Surendran has won!

****

And now the final contest in the First Round.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelley died with a book by Keats in his pocket.

Today, poets carry an electronic universe.

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

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

****

Here are the 32 winners of Round One

The Bold Bracket

Diane Lockward (d. Aaron Poochigian)

Aseem Sundan (d. Hoshang Merchant)

Linda Ashok (d. Menka Shivdasani)

Edgar Poe (d. John Milton)

Daipayan Nair (d. Philip Larkin)

Eliana Vanessa (d. Joie Bose)

Robin Richardson (d. Robin Morgan)

Khalypso (d. Walter Savage Landor)

**

The Mysterious Bracket

Jennifer Barber (d. Sophia Naz)

Srividya Sivakumar (d. Percy Shelley)

Aakriti Kuntal (d. A.E. Stallings)

Merryn Juliette (d. Ranjit Hoskote)

Michelina Di Martino (d. Meera Nair)

Kushal Poddar (d. Sukrita Kumar)

Nabina Das (d. Ben Mazer)

Sridala Swami (d. Richard Wilbur)

**

The Life Bracket

William Logan (d. Garrison Keillor)

Danez Smith (d. Akhil Katyal)

Divya Guha (d. Semeen Ali)

N Ravi Shankar (d. Lily Swarn)

Kim Gek Lin Short (d. Rupi Kaur)

Alec Solomita (d. June Gehringer)

Stephen Cole (d. Marilyn Chin)

Sam Sax (d. Dylan Thomas)

**

The Beautiful Bracket

Mary Angela Douglas (d. Abhijit Khandkar)

Ann Leshy Wood (d. Ravi Shankar)

Medha Singh (d. Philip Nikolayev)

Sharanya Manivannan (d. Yana Djin)

Jennifer Robertson (d. John Keats)

Sushmita Gupta (d. Dimitry Melnikoff)

C.P Surendran (d. William Shakespeare)

Raena Shirali (d. A.E. Housman)

****

 

 

MORE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET FIRST ROUND ACTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a very close contest, Sharanya Manivannan wins.

****

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

“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

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

“ocean after ocean after ocean”

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

Fate is kind to Jennifer Robertson.

“ocean after ocean after ocean” wins.

Keats can go back to sleep.

****

BEAUTIFUL BRACKET—MORE FIRST ROUND ACTION

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

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

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

Ravi Shankar “What matters cannot remain.”

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

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

A strange scent, of oranges, fills the arena.

Ann Leshy Wood wins.

****

Medha Singh brings a stunning line to the competition:

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

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

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

“within its vast domain confined”

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

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

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

Medha Singh has won.

 

FROM THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET ROUND ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the Beautiful Bracket’s First Round action:

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

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

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

A lovely battle.

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

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

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

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

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

“One candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

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

Mary Angela Douglas wins.

****

The rest of the Beautiful Bracket to come:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

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

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”

 

MORE FIRST ROUND LIFE BRACKET PLAY

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Marilyn Chin

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

There are several ways we can approach lying and poetry.

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

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

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

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

Gehringer’s opponent in the Life Bracket is:

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

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

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

One can hear this spoken with no emotion at all.

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is too close to call.

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

***

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

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

Hits it out of the park, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

We all know what he means.

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

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

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

Sam Sax has just enough!  Sam Sax advances!

****

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

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

 

 

 

MORE ROUND ONE ACTION IN THE LIFE BRACKET

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

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

Well, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did William Carlos Williams invent “not saying anything?”

Didn’t haiku come first?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim Gek Lin Short wins.

****

Next in the Life Bracket Round One Play:

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

vs.

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

 

LIFE BRACKET ROUND ONE PLAY

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Semeen Ali competes in the Life Bracket with 15 other poets

William Logan is known for fierce criticism.

His poetry is nicer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Logan wins.

****

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

“I call your mama mama”

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

“How long did India and Pakistan last?”

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

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

Danez Smith advances.

****

Divya Guha breaks our heart in ten seconds.

No, in ten words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine words by Semeen Ali against ten by Divya Guha.

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

Divya Guah will advance to the second round.

****

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

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

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

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

Lily Swarn, another poet from India, counters with:

“The stink of poverty cowered in fear!”

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

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

R Ravi Shankar wins.

A lullaby roared by fans fills the arena.

****

Next:

Rupi Kaur v. Kim Gek Lin Short.

June Gehringer v. Alec Solomita

Marilyn Chin v. Stephen Cole

Sam Sax v. Dylan Thomas

 

CONCLUDING MARCH MADNESS MYSTERY BRACKET FIRST ROUND PLAY

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Meer Nair plays in the Mystery Bracket

Poetry charms us just as any other kind of speech does.  This should give us pause.  What is poetry, then?  How do we know we’re reading poetry?

In the First Round contest in the Mystery Bracket we have this, which is infinitely charming, though we are not really sure why:

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Michelina Di Martino is the poet.

Di Martino’s fans and supporters and followers resemble the followers of dionysus, which is to be expected. We cannot think of a more delirious meme than “Let us make love. Where are we?”  Frenzied acolytes make for a loud and enthusiastic fan base, which has to make Di Martino the favorite in this contest.

Her opponent is Meera Nair, who is a mother, a poet, and a movie actress.

Her is: “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

It is supremely beautiful—we could ponder this line for hours in a sweet fit of melancholy; the lake, as we will believe, will be drawn to the sea, and landscapes with both lake and sea invoke all the peace and longing we might expect when contemplating robust and watery nature as she lies upon the land.

If Di Martino thrills, as we contemplate unburdening ourselves in smoky, far off hills, Nair allows us to reflect in our rooms, with a window open to the air.  We consider things broad and wide, or trivial perhaps, concerning a lake, and gentle hills leading the watery confinement gurgling down to the sea.  We know Meera Nair’s fragment is poetry. We cannot be sure Michelina Di Martino’s is.  It is perhaps because the packed March Madness arena is filled with noise and confusion, and the warm, heart-rending screams of the crowd, that “Let us make love. Where are we?” wins.

****

Sukrita Kumar’s “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown” burns us with its mysterious wisdom.

What is known more acutely than fire? And what burns?  The unknown.  Everything is unknown to leaping flames. Unknown, the cavernous space filled with sparks, dark and cool above the conflagration which desperately attempts to warm and light our lives.

In stark contrast, Kushal Poddar’s: “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

What could be more different from “Flames are messengers,” a loud pronouncement from the god Vulcan, perhaps, words belonging to the center of the earth, roaring to us from the metal doors of old time? “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer” is the essence of affectionate, domestic tranquility, the lean cat eluding its kind master in the cooling shadows.

How to decide between these two states?

There is no time decide.  Only the impetuous result beneath the lights and clock in the old trembling arena of March Madness.

We smile when we read Kushal Poddar’s offering.  It warms our heart, and this warmth douses the flames.

Poddar will advance to the second round.

****

Ben Mazer is another demonstration that poetry’s force often lies away from whatever we commonly think of as poetry.  Mazer is the champion of a previous Scarriet March Madness, perhaps the greatest prize a poet today can claim.  Nobel? Pulitzer?  Everyone knows these prizes are political.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is the line the Mazer crowd wildly cheers from the rooftops of the Madness arena.

What is this poetic force that Mazer has?

There are so many ways for poetry to excel. But to excel, to stand out, to be regarded with awe, one must evince a quality, a mysterious quality, a strange combination of qualities, which teases the soul of the reader so they surrender almost immediately to the spell.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is all Mazer.  It is mesmerizing, but why?

We would venture to say that Mazer succeeds through the most profound introversion it is possible to evince.

The profound secret to Mazer’s success is simple.  The success is not simple, but the secret is.  And the secret is that Mazer proffers introversion to such an extreme degree, that the reader is disarmed, the reader’s blood pressure is reduced to near-zero, and in the resulting trance, the sweet poison is easily administered, and the spell effortlessly cast.

The great poet cannot be measured by rhymes, words, subject.  Or perhaps they can.  Anything can be quantified before the lynx eye.  But in this instance, as we contemplate the mystery that is the wonder of Mazer, we venture to say it is this: he is greater than nearly all of his peers in poetry (and any extreme in the realm of good taste can succeed in poetry) because his poetry is marked more by introversion than anyone else’s.

This is not to say that Mazer’s poetry cannot say bold or extroverted things.  It is the introverted life from which it comes which conquers.

One can see at once the advantage of introversion in poetry: the hush, the mystery, the unruffled beauty, the calm, the deep breathing, the concentration, the privacy, the reverie, the reverential, the quiet tension, the tender, abashed sinking into the unknown.

Mazer’s opponent is Nabina Das.  She has produced the for this bracket the one entry which might be intimates an actual mystery:

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

The future is blisteringly manifest: “where she later dangled.”  Or perhaps the dangling is done in fun?

We doubt it, for there is a menacing finality about the whole thing: “the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

The ambiguity would be more of a problem if the line were not so much fun in itself:

“Under the same” locks nicely into “ceiling fan from where” and the line travels straight up into the thin atmosphere of “she later dangled.”

It’s the kind of line which resembles a surfing wave—it belongs to nature almost as much as it belongs to ink:

“under the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

It is not introverted, by any means.  Not like this, anyway:

“her room retains the look of the room of a stranger”

Both lines could almost be from the same poem.  It is almost as if fate matched these lines in March Madness.

Both are neatly divided in two:

her room retains the look—of the room of a stranger.

under the same ceiling fan—from where she later dangled.

Both are masterpieces of aural architecture:

“room” and “look” and “room” from a group, as do “retains” and “stranger.”

“under” and “where she later” form a group, as do “same ceiling fan” and “dangled.”

It is too close to call.

Nabina Das defeats Ben Mazer!

Fans in the rooms are going crazy.

****

In the final, Mystery Bracket Round One contest, we have Richard Wilbur, and his famous “The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Richard Wilbur’s (1921-2017) opponent is Sridala Swami:

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

Richard Wilbur was a leading 20th century formalist, and we can see this in the exuberance of all those “a’s:” air, all, awash, angels. Not to mention the iambic pentameter: The MOR-ning AIR is ALL a-WASH with AN-gels.

Sridala is trying to do something quite different.

There are no angels. There is no morning air.

“There is only this book” and we are already post-modern, or is the a reference to what Dante, in his Vita Nuova, says is his “book of memory,” which creates the smaller book of his Vita Nuova?

Sridala’s line begins with three anapests: There is ON-ly this BOOK, and your ONE

And the caesura in the middle of the line is the spondee, ONE CHANCE—which is the perfect place to make a dramatic pause: you’ve got one chance, bub.

of SPEAK-ing to the WORLD is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

A long anapest: -ing to the WORLD, and then three iambs ends it: is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

If we read both lines aloud, we find both scan, the Wilbur with more concentrated force, but hers is equally strong, and more subtle.

Hers is speech within speech.  One chance.

His is the singularity of something supernatural, or perhaps merely descriptive, we see in, and around, the morning air.

Wilbur’s is more fanciful, but there is something beautifully somber and philosophically contemplative in Sridala Swami’s “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Sridala Swami wins.

 

Next up:  The Life and Beautiful Brackets.

MARCH MADNESS MYSTERY BRACKET PLAY CONTINUES

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Often the most delightful mysteries occur when we find ourselves contemplating deeply what has always been there, in plain sight.

Hidden, it is off our radar, and has no chance to even be a mystery.

Mysteries intrigue and startle us most when we notice what previously escaped us, and was always in front of our nose.

As Shelley said, mystery can be “dear” to us, a source of delight, and even humor.

We usually associate mystery with a killer in the midnight, London, fog.

Mystery, however, may be our destiny and delight; the reason for the reason is the mystery.

A.E. Stallings, the no. 3 seed, a distinguished, formalist American poet who lives in Greece, presents a puzzle, a mystery indeed:

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

Plato equated the truly true with eternity—if it lasts, it’s true, and this seems to have influenced our March Madness no. 3 seed poet: “Perfection…could not be undone.”  This is why it’s “perfection”—nothing can remove it. But the joke, is “perfection” is a “blot.”  One thinks of a stain one cannot get out. (Lady Macbeth?)  Is Stallings hinting at moral justice?  The blot, or plot, that cannot be undone?  But the larger point is: perfection is equated with a blot.  Perfection, stays, but is imperfect.

The notion of perfection as a blot is funny—as well as profound. Didn’t we say mystery and humor are related?

Aakriti Kuntal, a young poet, is Stallings’ opponent in the Round One Mystery Bracket.

Kuntal is being funny, too, as she contemplates the nature of imagination.

To imagine is to see against our will—do we read imaginative works for what the writer has intended to imagine, or what they cannot help but imagine?

A genius could be involuntary—imagining what they do not want to imagine—and no one would think any less of their genius.

Kuntal directs the action:

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

The imagination of the poet “imagines the word,” and the word to the poet is that perfect blot—in this case, “jelly” and “mass.”

The complexity of Kuntal’s line is breathtaking. It makes you say to yourself: how could someone write this? It resembles a lecture on the physics of the poetic imagination.

First, deprive yourself of sight—a good advice for poets, for the poet is not a painter.

Second, imagine the word. More excellent counsel. Without sight, which the poet doesn’t need, the imagination succeeds poetically when it imagines not the world, but the word.

Third, since the first two steps are sufficient advice, having reached the limits of poetic imagination, self-consciousness begins; the poet is thrown back on herself, and naturally, as we “imagine the word,” we are stopped by a figure of speech—“the word is on the tip of my tongue.”

To get beyond a figure of speech, which blocks creative and original speech, the poet fastens on the word on the tip of the tongue—that is, speech itself, which the tongue represents.  To get past “imagine the word,” that is, turning the word into an image, which the word already is, in the poet’s imagination, we get over the hump of unoriginal speech (a figure of speech) and enter speech itself, the engine of poetic imagination.  There is no escape. Poetry, no matter how imaginative, is speech, and the tongue described is the tongue speaking.

Kuntal’s joke is even better than Stallings’ joke: “perfection” as a “blot.”

The word on the tip of the tongue—is the tongue!

“The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Poetry is a “mass” of words.  Poetry is that point when quivering words reach a critical “mass.”

Kuntal’s advice, or tip—“close your eyes and imagine the word” is “the red tip” of all the speech which follows.

Aakriti Kuntal wins, and advances to Round Two.

***

The fourth contest in the Mystery Bracket is the following:

Merryn Juliette “grey as I am”

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

The eye cannot help but see the fragment of a poem as a poem.

But what should the eye have to do with a poem?   Surely an eye’s illusion cannot touch the poem.

If we could have a shorter poem, we would—it concentrates our delight, and the secret of delight itself (as opposed to how long the delight lasts) is concentration of a bodily feeling. Even a slightly long poem does not exist.

A mystery cannot be nothing.  A mystery comes to be such just at that moment when nothing is left behind.

“grey as I am” transfixes us.

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

Spring fated to be the nightingale’s cage is wonderful.

But “grey as I am” wins.

The fragmentary context of the examination proper to Madness competition absolutely favors “grey as I am” in a manner which would go against the whole spirit of the fragment to explain.

It takes tremendous skill to be poetic for any length of time.  This is the law which actually benefits “grey as I am.”

Who knows that “grey as I am,” in the future, when all art is abstract art, and art only intrigues us as such, will not be considered by itself a great poem? Painting, so rich and engaging—think of the masterpieces of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries!—became Abstract Painting, and who knows the same thing will not happen, when all useless chatter ceases, to poetry?  And what finer example than “grey as I am?”

Merryn Juliette advances.

****

Coming up next in the Mystery Bracket:

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

THE MYSTERY BRACKET ROUND ONE, MADNESS ’19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a close contest, Barber advances.

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

“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

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

Here is Srividya:

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

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

Srividya defeats Shelley!

Anything can happen in March Madness!

Next Up:

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

versus

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

POETRY MARCH MADNESS 2019 ROUND ONE ACTION

One of the contestants in the Bold Bracket—Kolkata’s great poet, Joie Bose

In the Bold Bracket, first round play has been prefaced by some wild fans’ marches—the “Fan March” is a tradition in Scarriet’s March Madness Tournament.

The crowds for Diane Lockward’s “The wife and the dog planned their escape” is a woman’s march for the ages—thousands of women dressed as canines, carrying signs “Woman’s Best Friend,” topless women with signs, “Topple the Patriarchy!” We have never seen anything like it. “Bold First Seed, Woman is the First Seed! Go Diane!” scream many placards.

Diane’s opponent is sixteenth seeded Aaron Poochigian, a Classics professor who translates from Ancient Greek, and writes narrative verse—which sounds like contemporary prose—we don’t know how some poets manage this, but they do, rhyming only for themselves, not for me and you. But into the Madness comes this, beating its Homeric drums: “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.” Unfortunately, Homer did not write in English—attempting to write like this, Byron should be the model; if one is to jangle and jingle in a narrative, one must go about it self-consciously, and make a whimsical pact with the reader. This type of poetry will never work if you boss the reader around with Miltonic airs; Poochigian tells the reader to “hear” a “squeaking,”  a “squeaking” which sounds “like hinges,” while simultaneously telling the reader to “hear the Sirens calling,” a feminine rhyme (they are Sirens, after all) echoing “spalling.” The tone is pedantic, which is unfortunate, because the meter is really good—note all the wonderful trochees: “spalling, margin, squeaking, hinges, hear the, Sirens, calling.” He has a good ear; now Poochigian needs to let his hair down and have fun; drop the pretense and study Byron.

The Diane Lockward fans are relentless, mocking the use of the word, “spalling;” they feel Diane has nothing to fear from Poochigian’s nerdy and pretentious versifying—“The wife and the dog planned their escape” is accessible, thrilling, and nuanced—delightful as we imagine how a dog and a wife, as animal and human, might “plan” in secret to escape the husband.

Diane’s fans are right. She wins easily against  “hinges squeaking” “beyond the round world’s spalling margin.”

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” advances to the second round of play.

Also in the Bold bracket, No. 2 seed Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” clashes with Hoshang Merchant “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing.” The delight is the sweet resignation conveyed, even as “wild” is the adjective—a truly great line of poetry. But Sundan’s “red” has produced an uncanny originality and force; a transcendent urgency emboldens his red shirted followers into a frenzy; near-riots occur throughout the day outside the arena—the Riot Muse Police are called. Inside the arena, Aseem Sundan confidently wins.

In the third Bold Bracket contest, it is Menka Shivdasani “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.” versus Linda Ashok “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Both contestants evince the quotidian: Menka is cooking (dangerously?) and Linda is suggesting an appointment (dangerously?)  In both cases, women are daring us not to see them as ordinary; the strange or the threatening within a common circumstance threatens to happen, or merely happens to threaten. Do not take the woman, or any chore, or her day, or any action she might be doing, for granted. Linda Ashok’s is more interactive; it is less boastful, and more potentially thrilling—a sexual encounter which neither party will remember, or regret, is implied, but it could be any number of things the poet wants. Linda cools her opponent—and with cool concision, makes an appointment with victory. Linda Ashok moves onto the second round of play.

In our fourth Bold bracket game, It’s John Milton versus Edgar Poe.

Milton’s “Paradise Regained” excerpt is a paean to glory:

“Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

Poe used Milton’s “Paradise Lost” as his example when Poe issued his famous “a long poem does not exist” formula; Poe felt no fear in puncturing poets of reputation; and elsewhere he found fault with Milton’s abstractions and angels. Is this contest a chance for Milton to get his revenge?

The robed followers of Milton file into the March Madness library where they chant, while dreaming. They even sing Milton’s glory in vestibules. Some are dressed as angels, with play wooden swords. One sign says, “Long Poems Do Exist!”

Poe’s march is large and ebony-endowed. No zombies, vampires, or werewolves, because Poe did not actually write about such things. Good taste was everything to Poe. “Poe was murdered!” reads one placard. “Poe Has Been Slandered by the Literary Establishment as a Drunk and a Drug Addict!” Some hand out copies of Poe’s lovely and sober handwriting to repair the genius’s distorted reputation.

The game should be amazing. A few fights break out between Baltimore Ravens jerseys with a sign “Poe was Murdered in Baltimore! Re-open the Case!” and robed rebel angels. A beautiful woman dressed as Satan is arrested.

Poe: “Over the mountains/of the moon./Down the valley of the shadow”

Milton: “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

“Glory,” Milton says, is the only “reward” which “excites to high attempts” the “flame,” and “flame,” we assume, stands for “glory.” So “glory” is the only thing which “excites” “glory” to “glory?” Or is “flame” the human soul, or is it human aspiration? The whole thing does sound “glorious,” if a bit abstract. Milton’s iambic line defends the trochaic “glory” in terms of rhythm quite nicely.

Poe’s Bold bracket entry has an immediate, haunting quality, pure and soundless, despite its cry. Yet Milton’s bold flame and rhythm are also silently and scarily glorious.

Poe is more visually pleasing than Milton—“Glory” in the abstract cannot quite compete with mountains and shadow—and Poe’s rhythm is snakily titanic, as well.

Poe, as hell erupts, wins.

Daipayan Nair is matched up against Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” one of the boldest and best known lines in all of poetry.

Daipayan Nair is bold as well: “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Mr. Larkin states a pessimistic fact. Daipayan is not stating a fact, but it is true what he says; life is a long search in which we find neither our birth nor our death, though we always have a feeling we will. “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death” says this beautifully.

Daipayan Nair wins. Larkin’s followers throw papers about in the library in protest.

Joie Bose and Eliana Vanessa tangle with evocations which vibrate the throat and tickle the brain:

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

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

This is a clash in a singing cave. Criticism, to go and judge these women poets, must be sinning and brave.

Magic beauty from New Orleans (Eliana) and Kolkata (Joie) seethe in epic dimensions; color whips up in darkness.

Both of these make us wonder—love as fable, treasure, and darkness. The choice between “turning stones in the rain” and “listening to the hum of…skulls” is intriguing; there is no choice in “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love;” there is fable, treasure, and darkness, and the inevitable blending of the three. Is this more fantastic than the “hum of skulls” and “turning stones in the rain?” Criticism can hardly decide. Intoxicating odors linger from candles. The atmosphere is heavy. Fans can hardly see. They feel the contest on their skin. They doubt from start to finish. The game proceeds in waves.

Both Kolkata and New Orleans suggest the strange and the ambiguous, but “the fable” of Joie Bose finally has more coherence—and yet there is something about those wet stones and humming skulls.

Vanessa drowns Bose at the singing end, and moves to the second round. Scarves and weeping.

Robin Morgan is suffering from illness, and with a tenacity which puts fear in her opponents, she brings to the loud arena, “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Robin Richardson, her opponent in the First Round Bold Bracket, looks around to find what she is playing: it is both large and small.

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

Ambiguity versus ambiguity. One is very powerful. One is more hesitant, and says please.

Robin Richardson, in a wink, manages to destroy and create. She wins.

The final contest in the Bold Bracket features one name versus three, a living poet living out the ambiguity of her time against one certain, in the grave:

Walter Savage Landor thunders from the tomb, “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife” and Khalypso, doubtfully, “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

And, doubtfully, since all Madness must be so, Khalypso, in a flurry of gasps, wins.

 

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes part of a poem good?

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

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

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

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

But this may be nothing but the wildest speculation.

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

Some would say modern poetry has set rhythm free.

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

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

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

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

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

And now we present the 2019 March Madness poets:

I. THE BOLD BRACKET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

II. THE MYSTERIOUS BRACKET

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

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

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

Merryn Juliette — “grey as I am”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. THE LIFE BRACKET

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

Danez Smith — “i call your mama mama”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

IV. THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

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

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”

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

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES. THOMAS HARDY VS. SUSHMITA GUPTA!!

Image result for thomas hardy in a pub

Utterly In Love  –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And I,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

 

The Man He Killed  –Thomas  Hardy

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

“I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe, of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like— just as I—
Was out of work— had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”

These are two sentimental poems, the first by a poet from India, who writes in English, little known in the United States, and the second by Thomas Hardy, (1840–1928) well known in the English speaking world as a novelist and poet.

Why we should even wonder why poetry is “sentimental,” or why poetry is censored for being “too sentimental,” says more about us as a race, currently, than about poetry. Sentimentality is really nothing more than inscrutability, or having profound feelings in the face of inscrutability. And when we stop to think about it, this is how we spend about 100% of our days—having feelings, in the face of what, to us, is inscrutable. Sentimentality is not only the rule—it is really just about all there is.

The pride of our education wants to say otherwise; we, in our scientific pride, pretend we know a great deal—though we don’t know how we fall in love, we don’t know where we came from, what made the world, where we are going after we die, the thoughts of others, and there is a great deal more we don’t know—a tiny part of which we learn in a day, and then quickly forget.

All respectable poetry production—since the mid-20th century—has been swallowed by the university. Learning is embarrassed by inscrutability, for obvious reasons. It is a simple, unspoken, defensive reaction: modern, academic poetry hates sentimentality. Education is uncomfortable with the inscrutable. The inscrutable and the sentimental are nearly the same.

But since human beings have feelings, and since we actually know (if we are honest) very little, sentimental is what we are—and to suppress this in our poetry, by making poems dry repositories of unsentimental events and facts, is sure to ruin poetry. And it has.

“The Man He Killed” is a favorite, despite its sentimentality, of modern critics—the mid-20th century New Critics’ textbook, Understanding Poetry, spotlights the poem for praise.

The poem is sentimental, however; Hardy admits that its subject—war—is completely inscrutable; the exasperated utterance Hardy uses is [how] “quaint and curious war is!” Men enlist out of boredom, or chance, and kill each other, dying for no reason at all. This is the sentimental theme. The school master, if they are anti-war, will teach this poem for the sake of a good conscience. Conscience, rather than wisdom, now drives the Humanities departments in college. Hardy, then, gets a pass, by the progressive college professor.

A sentimental objection to war satisfies the new academic urge. This sentimentality is allowed.

If one were to point out that statistics show that more deaths result from collecting debts (half-a-crown, or more) or from drinking and fighting “where any bar is,” than in armed conflicts, throughout  history, Hardy’s sanctimonious poem falls apart. It is too self-satisfied with its anti-war argument. The poem’s “sentimentality” is not the problem. Its argument is. The poem assumes men are good and war is bad. But in fact men are bad, and the reason why men are bad is inscrutable—Hardy escapes this uncomfortable fact—and sentimentalizes a hatred of war, while simultaneously taking the sentimental position that men outside of war are always friendly and good.

Or Hardy assumes they could be.

And this is at the heart of the poem’s sentimentality. Blokes savoring drinks with each other in pubs. Generals tell us to kill each other in war. “I would rather take my chances in a bar,” announces Hardy, deeply awash in sentimentality—and alcohol, perhaps.

Just so that is out of the way, we can now look at Gupta’s sentimental poem about love.

“Utterly In Love” is a poem of far more complex sentiment than Hardy’s—which basically says “instead of drinking with this bloke, I’m shooting at him! How absurd!”

Gupta is not mounting an argument against war, or anything the reader is expected to perceive as bad. She is truly sentimental, which is in her favor. She is not mixing some piece of impure intellectuality into her poem, as Hardy, the know-it-all, did.

The love of “Utterly In Love” is “secret,” but does not belong to “religion” or “revolution”—the speaker of the poem admits she has nothing to do with heavenly grace or earthly progress—hers is the love of a “mere mortal.”

Immortality, either from God, or from improving the lot of the human race, is not what she seeks, at least not overtly.

A poem is public, yet poems speaks of secret things, secret loves. Yet what is the most sacred and divine thing we feel, if not secret love?

Immortality is public—God recognizes you, or the human race builds you a monument for your revolutionary deeds.

But placing herself besides these two—religion or revolution—as a “mere mortal” with a “secret” love, the poet describes herself has having no identity whatsoever, going in a thoroughly opposite direction from an accomplished public figure. She is a “pool,” without even a shape. She is receptive, in her complete lack of will. And does this not describe the ultimate, pure, state of the true beloved? She is in a state to be formed by the one she secretly adores. This is psychologically true, since a secret crush makes us formless and helpless, with a desire that melts us. Perhaps we have no will, but the good thing is, we have no ego, either. We are ready to be a poet. We are purely and truly sentimental.

The poet wishes to be created—well, not quite—formed, by the secret love, and here’s the irony; the poet is creating herself, since she writes the poem. The poet becomes God, but this is only implied, not stated. And here’s a further irony, and even more delightful: if the poet is God, the secret love is God, who is forming her—so the more divine she is, as poet, the more divine the secret love is—so we have mutual true love, and the truth of it is expressed at the end of the poem, “And I…From loving you, Shall love you Even more.” The love increases, and is immortal. The mutuality of the lovers exists in the strongest terms, and the secrecy of the secret beloved of the poem enables the other to possibly be God—who is responsible for forming the poet—as well as the poem itself. Which makes God, who is the beloved, and the lover, and the poet, and the poem not “secret” at all—even as the secrecy is the agency which makes it possible to create the poem as a public document.

The winner: Sushmita Gupta.

Image may contain: 5 people, including Sushmita Gupta, people smiling, people standing, tree, outdoor and nature

 

 

 

 

 

MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS VS. ALGERNON SWINBURNE!! A MARCH MADNESS CONTEST FOR THE AGES!!

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Algernon Swinburne was a decadent, mid-19th century, English aristocrat (Eton, Oxford), friends with the painter, and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and art critic, John Ruskin. We are told he was diagnosed with a condition in which physical pain produced sexual pleasure.

Searching online, we find this: Swinburne’s book (Poems and Ballads) “included vehement atheism, sado-masochism, cannibalism, and lesbianism. In fact Swinburne may have been the first to use lesbian in its modern meaning, in the poem ‘Sapphics.’ The book was a huge success, but led to a charge of indecency placed against the book.”

In life, we care about the cause. We want to know the origins and secrets of a person, or a plan, or an idea.

In poetry, we care only for the effect.

Since a poet and a poem exist in the world, curiosity about cause may cause us to read for cause, but if this spoils our comprehension of the effect, it spoils our appreciation of the poetry. And yet does not comprehension belong to cause?

In what manner does a poem introduce us to the poet—the real person?  What is a real person?

How much does this matter to us?

Can the poem make this not matter?

Does the poem hide the world, and its poet, and all which pertains to cause, to produce a better effect?

Or does the cause, the poet, and the world, always shine through the poem?

Here is “The Garden of Proserpine” by Swinburne:

Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.
 .
I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.
 .
Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.
 .
No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.
 .
Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.
 .
Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.
 .
Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love’s who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.
 .
She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.
.
There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.
 .
We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.
.
From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.
 .
Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.
 .
The first thing we notice is the dirge-like music, the calm, drugged delight which the verse produces. The second thing is the theme, which fits the calm, sad music—life is somewhere busy, but this place is sleepy. In this place (this poem with this kind of music) contemplation of sleep, and contemplation of death, makes us both satisfied and sad. The third, and final thing, is the monotony—there is no excitement, or climax, or glory—and again, this fits the theme—all is one enduring poetic sigh, without a real beginning or end.
.
The power of Swinburne’s poem is its three-part, self-reverential, aspect.
 .
We detect no person, or personality in this poem—but a certain philosophy is expressed; its stanza-oriented verse, and more importantly, its verse-music matching its philosophy, is chiefly where its artistry lies.
 .
Mary Angela Douglas is a living, Christian poet. Here is her poem, “I Wrote On A Page Of Light:”

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Unlike Swinburne’s poem, a transcendence is evinced in three interesting ways—the existence of the “page of light” itself, the movement of the poem from day to night, and back to day, and the writing on the page of light. Nowhere in the entirety of the Swinburne poem is there a trope like this.

Swinburne’s poem smells of rot, and the poem of Douglas does not.

“The Garden of Proserpine” almost has a definite smell.

“I Wrote On A Page Of Light” is on a different plane of consciousness and experience.

The poems could not be more different.

Swinburne’s poem is enchanting, but has a few passages where the verse is clumsy.

The poem by Mary Angela Douglas is far more modest, but is mystically perfect, in a crystalline sort of way.

The moral force of “I Wrote On A Page Of Light” is stronger.

“The Garden of Proserpine” depends on music for its effect, and if the message seems monotonous after a while, it is not because of the verse, which is often beautiful, but because of the defects in the verse, which occasionally mar the composition.

Folks, we have another upset in Scarriet March Madness!

Mary Angela Douglas wins!

MAD MAD MAD MARCH MADNESS! STEPHEN COLE VS. EMILY DICKINSON

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Two sentimental giants—Emily Dickinson and Stephen Cole—face off in the Fourth Bracket in more first round action.

BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH -Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

The soul of music (and poetry) is time.

Emily Dickinson’s famous poem, like most famous poems, has a temporal subject, which is best for poetry, the temporal art.

Dickinson, whose poetic instincts were extremely well-developed, despite the roughness, the awkwardness, and the melodrama inherent in her work, must have been thrilled when “Because I could not stop for death” fell into her brain.

The iambic rhythm marches forward and even this part is sublime: “Because I could not stop.”

This is what separates the masters from the scribblers.  Be CAUSE i COULD not STOP.

The phrase itself is a world—it signifies Emily Dickinson the prolific poet, who cannot stop writing, in terms of meaning, but also in terms of music—Be CAUSE i COULD not STOP.

And then the iambic gets one more foot—Be CAUSE i COULD not STOP for DEATH.  “DEATH” finishes the line (of course).  (But the poet will not stop for “DEATH.”)

And then, where most poets would give us a scary DEATH—“He suddenly stopped for me?” Dickinson writes, instead, “He kindly stopped for me.”  The “Civility” is the civility of poetry—which understands that “to stop” belongs to time, to music—the soul of ingenious verse.  Time (movement) continues to dominate the poem: “We passed the Setting Sun -”

Dickinson’s poem is its subject, quite literally.

There is a living poet, writing many poems today, Stephen Cole, who is a genius in the manner of Emily Dickinson—and we can only hope that one day Stephen Cole will be read as widely as she is.

WAITING -Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

The genius of Cole’s poem, like “Because I Could Not Stop For Death,” lives within the words of the poem itself, timeless and sublime.  It is not, like most poems, a poem “about something,” which forces an emotional recognition in the reader. To some degree, all poems boil down to a piece of life resonating in the reader’s experience.

Some poems, however, like “Waiting,” open up new vistas of sweet pondering.

Dickinson’s “Death” is, “She” in Cole’s poem.

Cole’s poem, “Waiting,” unfolds in our minds as a philosophical event—we are not just “hearing a story.”

As in Dickinson’s poem, a profound causality takes wing.

Instead of “because I could not stop…”  we get the pregnant phrase, “I believe if She were here”

And we feel “She” is right, because the sound “are” echoes in “departing” —“the cold winds are departing.”

They are.  And it is all the more forceful, because of the poet’s respect, focus, and humility: “I believe if she were here she would tell me”…with her “message delivered thoughtfully…if only I was listening.” (!)

She has given him hope. She is absent. He is crushed, humbled—all this conveyed forcefully in a few lines!

The theme continues as powerfully, and gracefully, as it began:

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

How wonderful: “The void filled, recognized, for what it lost”—a void recognized for what it lost (he losing her?) and then “Otherwise it could not be filled.” (!)

A philosopher and a poet, both, this Stephen Cole!  And a warm philosopher, not a cold one.

“The rules are absent by rules.”  This sums up what has gone before, as philosophy continues to tease out the poetry.

The end of the poem is fantastic.  “She” (and we would expect this) owns the “proper need.”

The “long, long day” is both generous and sad—and “sidereal secrets” swings the poem’s movement towards the stars, rather than the sun—“she” is “absent,” but her influence—due to absence (the far stars, invoked by “sidereal”)—is profound.

A simple poem. A humble poem. A remarkable poem.

Are these two poems sentimental?

Cole’s poem has great understated emotion: we feel an exquisite humility in the poem.  Humility always suppresses loud, showy, drum-beating emotion—even within a dramatic scene.

Dickinson’s poem does do a better job of presenting a visual scene—the “swelling of the ground” compared to a “house,” for instance.

Is Dickinson personifying death sentimental?  Some would say, yes, because it’s a distancing, fanciful, trope to stave off anxiety.

Viewing graves and counting the years is not sentimental, but turning Death into a gentleman, is.

The passage of time, however—death as the imposition of large time (“immortality, eternity”) upon a mortal, who is dead—carries (the carriage?) Dickinson’s poem—the final image is “the horses’ heads were toward eternity.”

Cole invokes the same feeling and idea—and even more mystery—with his “sidereal secrets.” A brilliant stroke.

“Because I Could Not Stop For Death” is accessible and picturesque, one of the most iconic poems ever written.

“Waiting” is a more subtle, brooding masterpiece.

OMG!

Cole wins in an upset!

 

WHITMAN VS. MAZER—THE SENTIMENTAL POETRY MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES

 

Image result for walt whitman

The sentimental, as this 2018 March Madness Poetry tournament is finding out—as poems smash into each other in the particle accelerators of Scarriet’s aesthetic criticism—refers to any emotion at all, even anger.

Emotion, which the Modernists sought to distance themselves from—because the Victorians and the Romantics were too emotional in their poetry—is the beating heart of any poem; the poem cannot survive without emotion.

Are poems truth, as in scientific truth?  Even those who hate emotion, would not make such a claim (it would be an emotional one).

So if poems are not scientific documents, what are they?  They are sentimental documents—as much as feeling can be registered in a scientific (aesthetic, philosophical, psychological) manner.

The Modernists were fashionably reactive, but rather bankrupt philosophically and critically—the New Critics’ objected shrilly to the relevance of  the reader’s emotional response to a poem (yes, poems may make us feel something, they conceded, but this was not as important as the objective description of the poem as a thing).

T.S. Eliot, the father of New Criticism, famously  called poetry an “escape from emotion,” but he was confusing Poe’s formula that verse was 90% mathematical and 10% moral.

Poems can certainly be written, as Wordsworth said, in “tranquility,” even as powerful feelings flow between poet and reader.

The poem itself is not emotional.

The whole question of “escaping” emotion, or counting emotions bad in a poem, the way emotions are bad if one loses one’s temper in real life, is besides the point.

The mathematical is not emotional, and verse is largely mathematical—even prose poetry relies on rhythm, which is music, which is math.

But should the poet invent, and impart, emotion as part of the poem’s effect?

Yes, and this is a truism.

Aristotle says emotions can be “purged” by poetry. Aristotle was arguing with Plato, and looking for a way to praise emotions, but the “purging” idea is incomplete.  Let’s say a poem elicits disgust—how does this “purge” anything?  Does this mean we will never feel disgusted, again?  Of course not.  The poem has given us a feeling of disgust where there was none before, and whenever we remember the poem, we are disgusted.

The emotional content of a poem can include some “bad” emotions—fear or sorrow, for instance—disgust should probably be avoided altogether, but even disgust may be used, sparingly, perhaps—but the poem itself should do more than just produce an emotion, or a combination of emotions; the emotions of the poem must be accompanied with—what?  And here’s the mystery; here’s what the poet must decide with each poem.  All we know is that every poem should be highly sentimental, in the old, less pejorative, meaning of the term.

In the Fourth Bracket, the Sushmita Bracket, we feature some living poets, who don’t give a damn what contemporary critics think, and find joy and weeping in the poetic euphoria of grand, old, high sentiment.

Ben Mazer—one of the greatest living poets (tell us how he is not)—gives us a poem burning on emotional jet fuel.

As we have said, the “emotion” of a person and the “emotion” of a poem are two different things.

Personal emotion could indeed be something we would want to “escape” from, to tamp down, to control, etc.

A poem, however, understands no such social limits or niceties.

The more the poet understands this crucial distinction, the better the poet will be; those who do not understand this distinction produce poetry which is either purely dull, or purely offensive.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

The famous poem by Walt Whitman is Mazer’s opponent.  We copy the first stanza.

O Captain! My captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red.
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Many know and admire this poem, and Walt Whitman was embraced by the moderns—Pound put out a hand to Whitman (while ignoring Poe, and other important figures of the 19th century.)

Those who admire Whitman’s poem, when pressed, would probably not remember “But O heart! heart! heart!/O the bleeding drops of red.”

What respectable poet writes anything like this today?

And yet, “O Captain! My Captain!” is a great poem, a powerful poem, a memorable poem, with a wonderful rhythm—if Whitman had checked himself and said, “I can’t write nonsense like O heart! heart! heart!” who doubts but that the poem would never have seen completion, would never have been written at all?

The only drawback to Whitman’s poem is that it exhausts its theme in the first stanza, and the next two stanzas merely recapitulate the first.  It is a bold and lovely poem, however.

Ben Mazer, similarly, pours on the sentimentality in his poem—the poet is vulnerable in the extreme.  The hysterical and desperate nature of the poem is announced at once, with, “I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife.”  This alone, marks the poem as genius, and then Mazer presents the searing, simple words of an actual, intimate conversation, which adds to the drama, and then Mazer ends the poem with a direct, emotional plea at the highest possible pitch.

Mazer’s poem has four parts, with the poet’s position never wavering—the first part announces the setting and situation, the second part features a dialogue, the third part presents a key, yet hopeless turn in the dialogue, “I wish that it were true,” and in the last part, the poet seeks divine assistance, after beginning the poem with a reference to earthly power.

There’s no crying in poetry?

Yes there is.

Mazer wins.

SHELLEY VS. LEAR IN THE TENNSYON BRACKET

Image result for owl and the pussycat

Admit it.  You love good sentimental poetry.

“The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear is sentimental and lovely.

But what of Lear’s opponent in the first round?

Shelley’s political poem, “England 1819” may not be considered “sentimental.”

Let’s consider if it is, since this tournament is as much about ‘what is sentimental poetry?’ as it is about sentimental poetry.

“The Owl and the Pussycat.”  Surely this is sentimental, if anything is.

The first stanza is as follows:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

The poem is extremely musical—but music, as we all know, is mathematical (“runcible spoon” in the final stanza is verse-math genius)—is mathematics sentimental?

The poem is also a fantasy—it depicts the unreal. We all know feelings are strongest when they pertain to real life. Is the unreal sentimental?

The poem aspires to beauty–and all beauty has something cold about it.

And finally, Lear’s poem also has a certain archness; a whiff of the comic.  Is comedy sentimental?

So is “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” really as sentimental as all that?

If this poem calms and amuses us, and does not evoke strong feelings, perhaps it is not sentimental.  Unless we take the song of the owl seriously.

Shelley’s poem, on the other hand, is meant to generate strong feelings—doesn’t revolutionary fervor, the righting of great wrongs, require strong feelings?

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th’ untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

Which poem has greater feeling—the child-like poem by Lear, or the grown-up poem by Shelley?

Shelley writes of his own government—its brutality, its genocidal horror, its wrong, all very real to Shelley, the poet.  Had the poem been published while he lived, Shelley would have been thrown into prison.

Lear sings of an owl singing a love song to a cat on a boat under the moon.

Those, today, finding Shelley’s poem implausible and unfair, might label it “sentimental.”

Those not amused by Lear’s poem would probably call it the same—“sentimental.”

In the first instance, “sentimental” would mean “untrue.”

In the second instance, “sentimental” would mean “trivial.”

No one would call Shelley’s poem “trivial,” and no one would feel the need to point out that Lear’s poem was “untrue.”

Shelley’s poem is sentimental in attempting to call out a truth.

Lear’s poem is sentimental in murmuring a lie.

Both are beautiful poems.

Most would assume Lear’s poem is highly sentimental, and that Shelley’s poem is not sentimental at all.

Anger is never considered sentimental, and Shelley is angry.

Lear is certainly not angry.

The softer emotions are considered sentimental.

But anger is sentimental.

Shelley wins.

A stunning upset!

 

MARCH MADNESS—SENTIMENTAL WRESTLE BETWEEN LORD BYRON AND SIR JOHN SUCKLING

Image result for why so pale and wan fond lover

In the Blake Bracket—a contest between Sir John Suckling and Lord Byron—“Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover?” and “When We Two Parted.”

Both poems are about love, and sticking to it—or not.

Why are there so many love poems in the old days?

The ‘Dante explanation’ is that the origin of poetry was the phenomenon of high religion moving outward in Letters (religion the only real Letters there was at the time) to the less learned.

The ‘more learned’ were, in this case, men, and the ‘less learned’ were, in this case, women.

Poetry was, in its origins, to put it bluntly, sexual/religious indoctrination of women by men, or, as it is known today, “mansplaining.”

The poetry which survived as the best models of this practice was exactly as one might expect—the poems of poets like Dante and Petrarch, and later the Elizabethan poets—appalling expressions of sexual excitement elevated to religious ecstasy, and masked by language which evoked serene, pure, delicate religiosity.

This type of poetry naturally died a quick death when manners changed, and men and women lost interest in poetry as the expression of love masked as religion and religion masked as love.

But the trope was powerful—the elevated language of poetry, the beautiful language of poetry, served two things at once—1. religion in the outward manner and 2. sex in the hidden, or private manner.

Modern poetry has no ready-made duality, the kind which naturally existed, and attended the origin of poetry itself, when religious letters spread out into the secular sphere.

Modern poetry has everything and nothing.

Modern poetry lacks manners, since manners no longer need to hide what religion is doing. Modern poetry even lacks sex, because without manners, hiding of any kind is no longer necessary—even as real life hides from the poet all the time.  Real life isn’t codified—there’s no template—in modern poetry; looking around for its new poetic identity, Modernism seized on objects (Imagism) and quickly turned into a dreadful bore; modern poetry was kept alive in the tedious textbook; poetry was no longer profound/dirty or high/low; poetry was now democratic and plain; the public turned to Sinatra and Elvis and the Beatles—the Dante trope didn’t die at all.

The Dante trope was not really killed by the Modernists.  The Modernists today still don’t understand the power of love poetry—and sneer at it, as romantic drivel.  And most of it is romantic drivel, because the learned don’t write love poetry anymore.  They write modernist drivel, instead.  The learned alone will always be boring.  We look back at the learned Dante and don’t see the excitement, because secular, over-sexed modernism is incapable of seeing the beauty because they no longer understand what the beauty was for—to hide what back then was filthy and forbidden; the priests using religion for sex, Dante following Beatrice into heaven because that’s the only place he could follow her.

Modern poetry has neither heaven nor the unspeakable desires—which are now commonplace.

Love poetry was popular for a reason.

The Renaissance—think of Shakespeare’s Sonnets—saw ‘love poetry’ as more than boy writes girl—but sex was always the underlying thrill, the secretly sexual/religious, thrilling trope in the days of priests and virgins.

In Shakespeare’s Sonnets, you had a lot of ‘man giving boy advice about love,’ and that’s what we get with this Sir John Suckling chestnut:

Why so pale and wan fond lover
Prithee why so pale?
Will, when looking well can’t move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee why so pale?

Another reason for the great number of love poems back in the day arises as we contemplate these few lines: poetry was too effeminate a practice for men—unless poetry concerned itself, in an almost joking, or advice-giving manner, with love, and love’s effeminate traps and weaknesses. Men wanted to write poetry, and couldn’t, because it wasn’t manly, unless the slightly respectable trope of courting women (love) was made present.

Only a “pale” fop wrote verse—unless one were a clever knight (or aspiring playwright) who made it his business to trade in the trope from a knowing perspective.

Suckling is quite modern compared to Dante—in speaking of his reluctant Beatrice—or his friend’s Beatrice, in this case—Suckling ends his poem, “the devil take her.” Yikes!

Dante would be appalled.

Byron, a modern compared to Dante and Suckling, returns to a simpler, more purely romantic sensibility; the Romantics knew the Dante trope had “legs,” had staying power; the sophisticated, renaissance knight can be as clever as he wants, but love will always be love, and it hurts, and hell if it’s still not good for poetry.

Byron’s poem surveys the wreckage of the Dante trope—as he invests in it like crazy.

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sank chill on my brow–
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell in mine ear;
A shudder come o’er me–
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well–
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met–
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?–
With silence and tears.

Byron, the modern, almost seems like he’s mourning not so much the woman, with all his religious bells and sorrow, but the modern ruination of the old trope.

Suckling, writing in the 17th century, is having more fun.

Sir John wins.

MARCH MADNESS 2018 —SENTIMENTAL AND WORTHY

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This year’s Scarriet 2018 March Madness Tournament is a contest between great sentimental poems.

We use Sentimental Poems because sentimentality in the United States has long been seen as a great fault in poetry.

It is necessary we bring attention to a crucial fact which is so obvious many overlook it: In the last 100 years, it is considered a virtue for the poet to avoid sentimentality.

But poetry does not belong to the factual.

Ever since Socrates pointed out that Homer wasn’t trustworthy when it came to chariots, law, war, or government, the fact that poetry is not factual has been understood and accepted.

As science grew in stature, it was only natural that Plato was seen as more and more correct—science, the eyes and ears of discovery, made the imagination of lyric song seem feeble by comparison.  Entertainment, Plato feared, could take the place of truth—and destroy society, by making it tyrannical, complacent, sensual, and blind.

Plato’s notion, to put it simply, triumphed.

Homer was no longer considered a text book for knowledge.

Poetry was just poetry.

Religion and science—one, an imaginative display of morals, the other, an imaginative display of reason, became the twin replacements of poetry for all mankind.

Poetry still mattered, but it belonged to entertainment and song, the frivolous, the sentimental—as much as these matter, and they do.  The sentimental was not considered a bad thing, but it was never confused with science. Nor was poetry confused with religion. Religion, with its unchanging sacred texts, was society’s moral guide; a poem springs up suddenly in a person’s mind, a fanciful thing, a piece of religion for the moment—not a bad thing, necessarily, but ranked below science and religion.

Poetry sat on the sidelines for two thousand years.  Homer made it glorious, Plato killed it, and then Science and Religion, for a couple of millennia, were Homer’s two important substitutes.

For two thousand years poetry was sentimental, not factual.

Religion bleeds into poetry (quite naturally) —Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton—and in the rival arts, painting, and music—helps religiosity (high sentiment) to thrive and not be overthrown by science (fact).

Music and painting were especially glorious—we use the word without irony—(and religious) during the Renaissance, becoming almost scientific; musicians like Beethoven proved music is more than entertainment—it enriches the soul as much as religion.  Plato would certainly have approved of Bach and Beethoven, if not Goya and Shelley.

Poetry crept back into good standing (since being dethroned by Plato) through religion’s back door—as religion—especially during the Enlightenment and the 19th century—became more and more disgraced by science.

Modernism changed all that.

In the beginning of the 20th century, poetry (together with painting and music) decided it didn’t need religion or science.

Perspective (the mathematics of seeing), which developed in Renaissance painting, is science.

Cubism, Collage, (2-dimensional fragments) and Abstract painting’s color-mixing do not constitute scientific advancement.

Speech and versification enhance each other in poets like Pope and Byron—this has a certain scientific validity—poetry dribbling off into awkward prose, as it pretends to “paint” an “image,” does not.

Verse exists as written music.   Verse, like music, is a system of notation.  Beethoven’s notes do not float around experimentally on the page—Beethoven’s genius exists both in the notation, and in what the notation projects, with the sound of musical instruments. Beethoven’s genius also lies largely in the realm of the sentimental. Which is not a bad thing at all. Sentimentality occupies the battle-ground middle between religion and science—the genius of the modern is found more in artists like Beethoven and Byron, than in the more self-conscious “modernist revolution” of the 20th century—which was largely a step backwards for art and poetry, as talkers like Ezra Pound and John Dewey gained ascendancy.

Here’s an example of the pseudo-science which infested 20th century Modernism: Charles Olson’s idea that poetry is expressed as “breath,” and can be notated as such, on the page.  Yes, people breathe as they read verse, but “the breath” has nothing to do with verse in any measurable way.  A sigh is dramatic, sure. But a sigh isn’t scientific. Yet no one laughed at Olson’s idea. Modernists took it seriously.

And here in 2018, in the wake of Modernism with its sharp-pointed, experimental, unscientific irreverence, poets continue since 1900 to frown on anything sentimental, associating it with flowery, Victorian verse—when the sentimental belongs to the genius of great poetry.

Poetry is sentimental.

Bad poetry is sentimental only because all poetry is sentimental.

The damaging mistake Modernism made, dumping anything pre-1900, in its pursuit of the non-existent “new” (never really described or defined) was the insistence that sentimentalism was bad.

It was logical mistake, as we have just shown: all poetry (since Socrates knocked off Homer) is sentimental, not factual; Modernism’s childish, fake-science, tantrum against the sentimental was a gambit against religion, which was already collapsing before the advent of science.

Modernism did not embody scientific glory—unless skyscrapers as architecture belong to science.

The 20th century engineers and physicists (far closer to Leonardo da Vinci than William Carlos Williams) were scientific; religion lived on in the lives of the poor, even as Nietzsche-inspired, 20th century professors said God was dead; and meanwhile the Modern poets dug themselves into a hole—rejecting religion, while proudly beating their chests (Modernism’s crackpot identity was male) before the idol of pseudo-science. Modern poetry fell into oblivion, where it still exists today—secular, unscientific, unsentimental, unmusical, without a public, or an identity.

Sentimental poetry did live on throughout the 20th century—poetry is sentimental, after all.  It continued to thrive, in popular music, but as poetry, it mostly thrived beneath the Modernist headlines.

To highlight this argument, Scarriet’s 2018 March Madness Tournament will feature great sentimental poetry.

Before we start, we’d like to define the issue in more detail.

We do not assert that mawkish, simplistic, hearts-and-flowers, unicorns-and-rainbows, poetry is good.

But tedious, pedantic, dry, prosaic poetry is not good, either.

We simply maintain that all poetry, and the very best poetry, is sentimental, rather than factual—despite what Modernist scholars might say.

It is necessary to point out that verse is not, and cannot, as verse, be somehow less than prose, for verse cannot be anything but prose—with the addition of music.

Verse, not prose, has the unique categorical identity which meets the scientific standard of a recognizable art, because verse is prose-plus-one.  Verse is prose and more.  Here is the simple, scientific fact of verse as an identifying category, which satisfies the minimal material requirements of the category, poetry.

The objection can be raised that the following two things exist

1. prose and

2. prose which has a poetic quality, but is not verse

and therefore, poetry can exist without verse.

But to say that prose can be poetic while still being prose, is really to say nothing at all; for if we put an example of prose next to prose-which-is-poetic, it only proves that some prose writing samples are more beautiful than other prose writing samples.

This still does not change this fact: Verse is prose-plus-one.  Prose can be enchanting for various reasons; it can have a greater interest, for example, if it touches on topics interesting to us—but the topic is interesting, not the prose; the content of prose can have all sorts of effects on us—secondly, and more important, prose can certainly appeal for all sorts of sensual reasons, in terms of painting and rhythm and sentiment, and this is why we enjoy short stories and novels. But again, verse is all of this and more; verse is, by definition, prose-plus-one.

To repeat: Verse is more than prose. Prose is not more than verse.

What do we mean, exactly, by sentimental?  Isn’t there excellent verse which is not sentimental at all?  No, not really, if we simply define sentimental as the opposite of factual.

We might be confused here, because a fact can be sentimental; a simple object, for instance, from our past, which has associations for us alone—there it is, a souvenir, a fact which can move us to tears.

Just as verse is prose-and-more, the sentimental is fact-and-more.  Poetry adds sentiment to the fact.

Here are two examples of good poems, and because they are poems, they are sentimental; they are not sentimental because they are good, or good because they are sentimental.  The sentimental is a given for the poem. And because facts come first, and sentiment is added, poems use facts, even though poems are not factual.

Think of Byron’s famous lyric, “We Shall Go No More A Roving.”  The sentiment is right there in the title. “No more!” Something we did together which was pleasantly thrilling will never happen again.  

If this Byron lyric not sentimental, nothing is.   But we can state its theme in prose.  The sentimentality can be glimpsed in the prose, in the preface, in the idea.  The verse completes what the prose has started.

Facts, and this should not be surprising, do a lot of the work in sentimental poetry.  One of the things which makes Byron’s gushing lyric gloriously sentimental, for instance, is the fact that it is not just I who shall “go no more a roving,” but we shall “go no more a roving.” This is a fact, and the fact contributes to the sentimentality; or, it might be argued, the sentimentality contributes to the fact.

Carl Sandburg, born in 1878, got his first break in 1914 when his poems were accepted by Poetry, the little Modernist magazine from Chicago—where Sandburg was raised. Sandburg was initially famous for his “hog butcher for the world” poem about Chicago, but the Modernists (including the academically influential New Critics) withdrew their support as Sandburg gained real fame as a populist, sentimental poet. Sandburg even became a folk singer; his poem “Cool Tombs” was published in 1918, and you can hear Sandburg reading this masterpiece of sentimentality on YouTube—and you can hear Sandburg singing folk songs on YouTube, as well.  What is sentimental about a “cool tomb,” exactly?  Is it the sound-echo of “cool” and “tomb?” The sentimental in poetry proves the sentimental is not always a simple formula.

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” might be preferred by Moderns, because on the face of it, this poem doesn’t seem very sentimental at all.  Shelley’s poem is factual: a traveler sees a ruin. Shelley describes the facts as they are—here’s what the traveler sees.  But upon reflection, one recognizes how powerful the sentiment of the poem is—a great thing existed, and is now gone.  And yet, what is gone was evil, and the poem mocks its loss, and the final image of the poem is simply and factually, “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

However, and we don’t need to push this point more than necessary, the whole power of Shelley’s poem is sentimental.  The fact of the statue, half-sunken in the sands of a desert, is just that—a fact.  Were it only this, the fact would not be a poem—all poems, to be poems, must be sentimental; the sentiment is added to the fact.

The poet makes us feel the sentimental significance of the fact; this is what all poems do.

And now to the Tournament…

Our readers will recognize quite a few of the older poems—and why not?  The greatly sentimental is greatly popular.

Most will recognize these poems right up through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

The half-dozen poems composed more recently, in the fourth and final bracket, will not be as familiar, since sentimental examples of verse no longer get the attention they deserve; we bravely furnish them forth to stand with the great sentimental poems of old.

“Sentimental” by Albert Goldbarth is not actually sentimental; the poem is more of a commentary on sentimentality by a pedantic modern, in the middle of the modern, anti-sentimental era.

“A Dog’s Death” may be the most sentimental poem ever written, and it comes to us from a novelist; as respectable poets in the 20th century tended to avoid sentimentality.

The poems by Sushmita Gupta, Mary Angela Douglas, Stephen Cole, and Ben Mazer we have printed below.

The great poems familiar to most people are sentimental—at the dawn of the 20th century, sentimentality was unfortunately condemned.

Here are 64 gloriously sentimental poems.

Old Sentimental Poems—The Bible Bracket

1. Western Wind –Anonymous
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd –Old Testament
3. The Lie –Walter Raleigh
4. Since There’s No Help, Come Let Us Kiss and Part –Michael Drayton
5. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love –Christopher Marlowe
6. That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In My Behold –William Shakespeare
7. Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies –William Shakespeare
8. Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss –Thomas Nashe
9. The Golden Vanity –Anonymous
10. Death, Be Not Proud –John Donne
11. Go and Catch A Falling Star –John Donne
12. Exequy on His Wife –Henry King
13. Love Bade Me Welcome –George Herbert
14. Ask Me No More Where Jove Bestows –Thomas Carew
15. Il Penseroso –John Milton
16. On His Blindness –John Milton

Newer Sentimental Poems—The Blake Bracket

1. Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover? –John Suckling
2. To My Dear and Loving Husband –Anne Bradstreet
3. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars –Richard Lovelace
4. To His Coy Mistress –Andrew Marvel
5. Peace –Henry Vaughan
6. To the Memory of Mr. Oldham –John Dryden
7. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard –Thomas Gray
8. The Sick Rose –William Blake
9. The Little Black Boy –William Blake
10. A Red, Red Rose –Robert Burns
11. The World Is Too Much With Us –William Wordsworth
12. I Wandered Lonely As  A Cloud –William Wordsworth
13. Kubla Khan –Samuel Coleridge
14. I Strove With None –Walter Savage Landor
15. A Visit From St. Nicholas –Clement Clarke Moore
16. When We Two Parted –George Byron

Still Newer Sentimental Poems—The Tennyson Bracket

1. England in 1819 –Percy Shelley
2. To ___ –Percy Shelley
3. Adonais–Percy Shelley
4. I Am –John Clare
5. Thanatopsis –William Cullen Bryant
6. To Autumn –John Keats
7. La Belle Dame sans Merci –John Keats
8. Ode to A Nightingale –John Keats
9. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways –Elizabeth Barrett
10. Paul Revere’s Ride –Henry Longfellow
11. Annabel Lee –Edgar Poe
12. Break Break Break  –Alfred Tennyson
13. Mariana –Alfred Tennyson
14. The Charge of the Light Brigade –Alfred Tennyson
15. My Last Duchess  –Robert Browning
16. The Owl and the Pussy Cat –Edward Lear

Even Newer Sentimental Poems—The Sushmita Bracket

1. O Captain My Captain –Walt Whitman
2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Emily Dickinson
3. The Garden Of Proserpine –Charles Swinburne
4. The Man He Killed –Thomas Hardy
5. When I Was One and Twenty  –A.E. Housman
6. Cynara –Ernest Dowson
7. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  –T.S. Eliot
8. Not Waving But Drowning  –Stevie Smith
9. Nights Without Sleep –Sara Teasdale
10. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed –Edna Millay
11. Sentimental –Albert Goldbarth
12. Dog’s Death –John Updike
13. Utterly In Love –Sushmita Gupta
14. I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas
15. Waiting –Stephen Cole
16. Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

Utterly in Love –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And me,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Waiting –Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

NOVEMBER 2017. THE SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100.

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1) Sushmita Gupta— When the waves lashed and the clouds loomed and I was alone.

2) Diane Seuss— I could do it. I could walk into the sea!

3) Rachel  McKibbens— as you lie still within the soft forgotten witch of your body

4) Daipayan Nair— The maker of a house carries its hardness.

5) Eminem— The best part about me is I am not you.

6) Sharon Olds—  I had not put it into words yet, the worst thing

7) Natasha Trethewey— two small trout we could not keep.

8) Billy Collins— The name of the author is the first to go

9) Terrance Hayes— but there are tracks of your syntax about the land

10) Robert Pinsky— The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

11) Bob Dylan— How does it feel?

12) Dan Sociu— the quakes moving/ for nothing, under uninhabited regions. (trans. Ana-Maria Tone)

13) Ben Mazer— Mother then/I am your son/The King.

14) Denise Duhamel— Ken wants to feel Barbie’s toes between his lips

15) Molly Fisk—  Then someone you love. And then you.

16) Sherman Alexie— They were common people who believed only in the thumb and the foot.

17) Jorie Graham— the infinite finding itself strange among the many

18) Charles Simic— Have you found a seat in your room/For every one of your wayward selves?

19) Louise Glück— In her heart, she wants them to go away.

20) Richard Howard— inspired by some wag’s verbose variations on the theme of semi-porn bric-a-brac

21) Donald Hall— so that she could smell the snowy air.

22) Stephen Cole— For the knowing heart the known heart cannot know.

23) Laura Kasischke— as if the worship of a thing might be the thing that breaks it.

24) Mary Ruefle— the dead borrow so little from the past.

25) Tony Hoagland— Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.

26) Kevin Young— a freshman, I threw/a Prince party, re-screwed/ the lights red & blue

27) Maxine Beneba Clarke— penny lane/on the Beatles trail/all the locals say and they nod/as if for sure they know/our tourist game

28) Carolyn Forché— What you have heard is true.

29) Mary Jo Bang— A plane lit down and left her there.

30) Dan Beachy-Quick— Drab bird unseen in the dark dark’s underbrush

31) Carl Dennis— Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.

32) Christian Wiman—  Do you remember the rude nudists?

33) Stanley Plumly— I clapped my hands just for the company.

34) Major Jackson— All seeing is an act of war.

35) Gary B. Fitzgerald— A life is gone and, hard as rock, diamonds glow in jet black skies.

36) Mary Angela Douglas—  the larks cry out and not with music

37) A.E. Stallings— From the weeds of the drowned.

38) Joe Green—  the teacup is filled with the eyelashes of owls

39) Dorianne Laux—  It’s tough being a guy, having to be gruff and buff

40) Collin Yost— I’ll love you when you’re mad at me

41) Rupi Kaur— Don’t tell me my women aren’t as beautiful as the ones in your country

42) Wendy Cope— The planet goes on being round.

43) Warsan Shire— when the men come, set yourself on fire.

44) Savannah Brown— Hi, I’m a slut. What?!

45) Brenna Twohy— My anxiety is a camera that shows everyone I love as bones

46) Lily Myers— My mother wanes while my father waxes

47) Imani Cezanne— Addiction is seeking comfort in that which is destroying you.

48) Ada Limón— What’s left of the woods is closing in.

49) Olivia Gatewood— resting bitch face, they call you

50) Vincent Toro—  This island like a basket/of laundry 

51) Koraly Dimitriadis— the day I moved out, I took my wedding dress to mum’s house

52) Nayuka Gorrie— I lose it and find it and lose it again.

53) Hera Lindsay Bird— Keats is dead so fuck me from behind

54) Marie Howe— Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?

55) Valerie Macon— You are the boss of your canvas

56) Patricia Lockwood—  OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

57) Danielle Georges—  O poorest country, this is not your name.

58) Frank Bidart—  In the evening she takes a lethal dose of poison, and on the following morning she is dead.

59) Eileen Myles— I write behind your back.

60) Leila Chatti— Are you also dreaming? Do you still worship me, now that I’m here?

61) Claudia Rankine—  After the initial presidential election results come in, I stop watching the news.

62) Anne Carson—  I can hear little clicks inside my dream.

63) William Logan—  the pastel salons require/the formalities of skin

64) Marilyn Chin—  lust drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency.

65) George Bilgere—  The mysteries/from the public library, due

66) Robin Coste Lewis—  what’s greyed/In and grey slinks ashamed down the drain.

67) Daniel Borzutzky—  hieroglyphics painted on the/walls of financiers who accumulate capital through the/unjustified sexual behavior of adulterous/women

68) Maggie Smith—  Any decent realtor,/walking you through a real shithole, chirps on/about good bones

69) Kim Addonnizio—  a man who was going to be that vulnerable,/that easy and impossible to hurt.

70) Kay Ryan—  If it please God,/let less happen.

71) Dana Gioia—  there is no silence but when danger comes.

72) Megan Fernandez— The bullet is a simple, adolescent heartache.

73) Kushal Poddar— My mom, a wheelchair since two thousand and one

74) Sascha Aurora Akhtar— I ate/But I am/Hungrier than before

75) Jennifer Reeser— your coldness and my idealism/alone for all this time have kept us true.

76) Linda Ashok—  a sudden gust of Kalbaisakhi/changed the conversation.

77) Ramsha Ashraf— tremble and tremble and tremble/With every kiss

78) Amber Tamblyn— If it had been Hillary Clinton, this would’ve never happened to Harvey Weinstein.

79) Ruth Awad— Nothing grows from me except the dead

80) Merryn Juliette— I will love her all insane

81) Nathan Woods— The best poems swell the lungs.

82) Nahid Arjouni— My headscarf will shudder if you speak with anyone. (trans. Shohreh Laici)

83) Philip Nikolayev— the fool moon/couldn’t stand the iambic pentameter any longer

84) Saira Shah Halim— The rains left behind a petrichor of shared verses

85) Jay Z— I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.

86) Nalini Priyadarshni— mostly bookish, as sinfulness should be

87) Mark Doty— Into Eden came the ticks, princes of this world, heat-seeking, tiny

88) Paige Lewis— I’m making love easy for everyone.

89) Mary Oliver—  You don’t have to be good.

90) Lyn Hejinian— to change this nerdy life upon row upon row upon row

91) Afaa Weaver— I stand here where I was born,/ and the masks wait for me.

92) Alex Dimitrov— What is under the earth followed them home.

93) Ben Lerner— jumpsuits, they have changed/painting

94) Wendy Videlock— the owl devours/ the hour,/ and disregards/ the rest

95) Joie Bose— I own that you from that night in November

96) Amy Gerstler— Pardon my/frontal offensive, dear chum.

97) Nathaniel Mackey—  Some new Atlantis known as Lower/Ninth we took leave of next

98) W.S. Merwin— into a world he thought was a thing of the past

99) Juan Felipe Herrera— Where is our exile? Who has taken it?

100) Charles Bernstein—  Think about it, Mr./Fanelli.

FINAL ROUND ONE PROSE BRACKET BATTLE IN MADNESS: DICKENS VS. HAWTHORNE

Image result for nathaniel hawthorne

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!

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