CHUMKI SHARMA OF CALCUTTA IS MARCH MADNESS CHAMPION!

AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME

WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS

THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC

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

THE FINAL FOUR!!!

WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING —MAURA STANTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

POETRY MARCH MADNESS ELITE EIGHT!!!!!

NORTH

MAURA STANTON —WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

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

 

WEST

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

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

 

EAST

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

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

 

SOUTH

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

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

 

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

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

True, Marla. True.

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

SWEET SIXTEEN!!

Ben at Shays

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

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

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

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

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

We chose wisely.

Marla Muse: We did.

In the North

Maura Stanton: Who made me feel by feeling nothing

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

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

Molly Brodak: boundlessness secretly exists, I hear

In the West

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

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

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

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

In the East

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

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

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

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

In the South

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

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

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

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

Congratulations to all the winners!!!

 

 

FIRST ROUND 2016 MARCH MADNESS WINNERS!

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

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

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

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

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUSAN WOOD AND LAWRENCE RAAB IN LAST FIRST ROUND BATTLE

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

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

A good speech is always good.

Even when Iago is giving it.

No.

Because Iago is giving it.

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

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

Here is the first by Susan Wood:

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

How can a line be better than a poem?

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

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

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

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

People are not as involuntary as they seem.

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

nothing truly seen until later

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

But let us not argue with this line.

It will either win, or lose.

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

The final line sinks into abyss.

And we will see you later.

 

 

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

Language can do anything.

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

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

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

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

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

Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait to see who wins!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRENDA HILLMAN AND LYN HEJINIAN

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

1. It describes what must happen.

2. It describes it as it must be described.

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

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

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

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

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

Talking flames get rid of hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

Marla Muse: Tom, you are so awesome.

Thanks, Marla.

Lyn Hejinian’s line succeeds on the same principle:

You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Obviously this has many meanings.

Marla Muse: Many meanings.

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

Lyn Hejinian (pictured above) wants to be loved.

So does Brenda Hillman.

This tournament shows this from a certain angle.

 

 

 

CLAUDIA RANKINE VERSUS ROWAN RICARDO PHILLIPS IN FIRST ROUND SOUTH ACTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rankine’s line is this:

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

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

It does not not get you quite wrong.

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

We leave it at that.

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

 

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

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

But look at this by the poet Willie Perdomo:

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

Or this, by Tim Seibles (pictured above):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Shakespeare:

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

Tennyson:

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

Yeats:

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

Why don’t the poets play this music anymore?

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

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

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

But what if there is one rule: the mirror?

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

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

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

Now the poets hardly do it at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marla, you remember when that was so?

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

Marla, your presence in this tournament is invaluable.

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

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

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

Marla! Are you OK?

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

[Confusion in the tournament stadium. Order restored.]

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

They’ve mown the summer meadow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROBERT HASS AND TRACI BRIMHALL IN FIRST ROUND NORTH BRACKET BATTLE

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

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

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

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

Marla Muse: Are you talking basketball, or poetry?

Both.

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

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

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

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

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

How true!

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Traci Brimhall’s line:

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

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

 

 

MORE FIRST ROUND NORTH ACTION: ANNE CARSON AND MOLLY BRODAK

Hearing is what we do when we read poetry.

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

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

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

This was the great error Modernism made.

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

Poetry is never seen.

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

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

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

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

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

Does this sound too German?  Es tut mir leid.

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

boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Marla Muse: Oh God. I do like it.

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

 

 

 

BACK TO THE NORTH: MARY OLIVER VERSUS CHARLES HAYES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You do not have to be good.

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

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

Her sweaty driver knows his load his fair.

It has a certain chivalrous pathos that we like.

It doesn’t have a moral.

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

Good versus fair.

Now that’s a contest.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Only the poets are forced to live in darkness.

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

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

The laughter of the poet is true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDREW KOZMA, NATALIE SCENTERS-ZAPICO IN WEST BRACKET BATTLE

Edgar Poe talked of two kinds of writing:

One discloses what we ourselves had thought before.

The other seems to us wholly original.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor poetry must use doubts to be strong.

Be strong, Andrew.

You might still win this thing.

 

 

MORE WEST ACTION: ROSS GAY VERSUS DONNA MASINI

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

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

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

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

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

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

One never knows does one how one comes to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masini’s line uses punctuation, which recommends it.

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

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

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

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

KEVIN YOUNG AND MEREDITH HASEMANN CLASH IN THE WEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

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

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

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

So we want the female to be free.

To eat men.

Fried in cheese.

This should be an interesting contest.

 

 

 

PATRICIA LOCKWOOD AND CANDACE WILEY IN WEST BRACKET BATTLE

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

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

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

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

No.

The “poetic” is more mainstream than the mainstream.

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

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

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

The mainstream hates fame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March Madness cannot contain them.

The tickets are going fast for this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Both arts tells us what to listen for in time.

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

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

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

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

Which means being as deliberate and definite as possible.

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

The poet should not waffle.

“The woes were words.”

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

So there are no more words, Stallings says.

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

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

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

just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAPHAEL RUBINSTEIN AND LORI DESROSIERS: FIRST ROUND EAST

The best competition is love.

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

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

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

Says Raphael Rubinstein:

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

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

To answer this question, we’ll say this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you were just you in my dreams.

How deliciously and wonderfully ironic.

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

We want the facts—in our dreams.

And we don’t want them anywhere else.

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

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

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

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

And whose fault is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PODDAR AND KASISCHKE GO A LITTLE BIT MAD IN THE MADNESS

Kushal Poddar is in the 2016 Madness

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

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

In America, poets study at Writing Programs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE EAST BRACKET: MICHAEL TYRELL BATTLES JOIE BOSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is her line selected for the tournament:

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

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

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

“Isn’t that love?”

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

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

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

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

how much beauty comes from never saying no?

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

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

A beautiful battle for the ages.

 

IN THE SOUTH: CHUMKI SHARMA VERSUS TERRANCE HAYES

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

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

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

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

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

Terrance Hayes:

Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

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

How much does a line of poetry know its author?

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

Chumki Sharma:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should we walk away from this contest?

No.  Bring it on.

Which line pleases us more—as poetry?

And can this answer be cruel—or unfair?

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

 

 

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI TANGLES WITH RICHARD WILBUR IN THE SOUTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

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

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

Who will win?

 

 

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

image

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

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

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

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

Mary Angela Douglas has nothing to fear.

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

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

The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

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

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

With utterance of raindrop wings, Douglas:

The larks cry out and not with music.

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

Poetry seems forever changed.

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

 

 

2016 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS!! BEST CONTEMPORARY LINES OF POETRY COMPETE!!!

Scarriet: You know the rules, don’t you?

Marla Muse: Rules?

Scarriet: The March Madness rules.

Marla: Of course!  A sudden death playoff within four brackets. The winner of each bracket makes it to the Final Four, and then a champ is crowned!

Scarriet: We have 64 living poets, represented by their best lines of poetry—and these lines will compete for the top prize.

Marla: Exciting! To be sad, to be happy, or intrigued, or fall into a reverie—from a single line!  Only the best poets can do that to you!  Are all of these exceptional poets?

Scarriet: Of course they are.  The New Wave of Calcutta poetry is represented; poets who have won prizes recently; poets published in the latest BAP; some fugitive poets; and we’ve included a few older lines from well-known poets to populate the top seeds, for a little historical perspective.

Marla: A famous line of poetry!  It seems impossible to do these days.

Scarriet: There are more poets today. And no one is really famous. Some say there are too many poets.

Marla: Marjorie Perloff!

Scarriet: Maybe she’s right.

Marla: Enough of this. Let’s see the brackets!  The poets!  The lines!

Scarriet: Here they are:

 

NORTH BRACKET

Donald Hall–To grow old is to lose everything.

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

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Anne Carsondon’t keep saying you don’t hear it too.

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

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

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

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

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

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Peter Gizzi–No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

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

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Charles Hayes–Her sweaty driver knows his load is fair.

Jeet Thayil–There are no accidents. There is only God.

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

 

WEST BRACKET

Louise Gluck–The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

A.E. Stallings–The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

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

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

Ross Gay–One never knows does one how one comes to be.

Andrew Kozma–What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

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

Sarah Howe–the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

EAST BRACKET

Marilyn Hacker–You happened to me.

Charles Simic–I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Laura Kasischke–but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Michael Tyrell–how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Susan Terris–Cut corners   fit in   marry someone.

Chana Bloch–the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

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

Willie Perdomo–I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

SOUTH BRACKET

W.S. Merwin–you know there was never a name for that color

Richard Wilbur–not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Terrance Hayes–Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

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

Richard Blanco–One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

Brenda Hillman–Talking flames get rid of hell.

Les Murray–Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

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

Lawrence Raab–nothing truly seen until later.

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

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

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

MORE VERSES VERSUS VERSES: MAZER AND RANSOM

MAZER:

Sunlight rests like a package at the door.
Nothing sees. The rich interior is useless to persons and chronology.
Once when the spring came to our caravan I’d say the mountain streams ran in her hair.
Let these things rest without memory.

RANSOM:

The lazy geese, like a snow cloud
Dripping their snow on the green grass,   
Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud,   
Who cried in goose, Alas,
For the tireless heart within the little   
Lady with rod that made them rise
From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle
Goose-fashion under the skies!

Now we get to see who is in the Final Four.

But how is this possible?

Look back on a few recent posts.

Michelangelo versus Teasdale: how can we declare a winner?  The very secret of Michelangelo’s soul in a newly translated sonnet. A heart-breaking lyric by the under appreciated Teasdale. How can there be a “winner?”

Oh God! Milton’s passionate paean to Virtue. Or Byron’s passionate paean to…passion. Oh God! Trembling are the knees of the judges!

Poe against Coleridge! Verses that drown the senses and tickle the smallest whiskers of the soul! How can a mortal decision be made?

Mazer, the contemporary representative! Contemporary poetry, generally, is flat, compared to great, old poetry. Ben Mazer, by a miracle, still in this tournament, among the greatest verse-makers of all time!  Against the Tennessean, Ransom, New Critic and T.S. Eliot of the American South, poet of old women and dead children.

The Final Four will appear in a cloud of tears

POE AND COLERIDGE PURSUE FINAL FOUR DREAM!

Poe:

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once fair and stately palace —
Radiant palace –reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion —
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This –all this –was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odour went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
(Porphyrogene!)
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh –but smile no more.

 

Coleridge:

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

MILTON AND BYRON BATTLE FOR PLACE IN FINAL FOUR!

Byron: some nerd who wrote a few poems

Milton brings it (from Comus):

Mortals that would follow me,
Love virtue, she alone is free;
She can teach you how to climb
Higher than the sphery climb;
Or if Virtue feeble were,
Heaven itself would stoop to her.

Byron:

Remember you! Remember you!
Till Lethe quench life’s burning stream,
Remorse and shame shall cling to you,
And haunt you. Like a fever dream.

Remember you! Oh doubt it not.
Your husband, too, shall think of thee,
By neither shall you be forgot,
You false to him. You fiend to me.

 

TO THE FINAL FOUR: MICHELANGELO (PREMIERE TRANSLATION) VERSUS TEASDALE!

Michelangelo:

Sonnet

Non ha l’ottimo artista alcun concetto

For Vittoria Colonna

This block of marble will not, for long, hide
My idea that seeks to destroy the inside
That keeps my idea hidden, away from the light
So you can see it and say I’ve done it right.
But I’m an ass to feel any bit of pride
For my strenuous art that carves the shape,
Or the mere idea that is my guide.
You, the model for all dress and video tape,
Stand above every block and every block broken,
Reminding me that two things matter
Hidden by pieces, paint and spatter,
World-parts seen, heard or spoken:
These two your truth: mercy and death.
Death is all I carve, in love with you, and out of breath.

Teasdale:

I am alone, in spite of love,
In spite of all I take and give—
In spite of all your tenderness,
Sometimes I am not glad to live.

I am alone, as though I stood
On the highest peak of the tired gray world,
About me only swirling snow,
Above me, endless space unfurled;

With earth hidden and heaven hidden,
And only my own spirit’s pride
To keep me from the peace of those
Who are not lonely, having died.

MICHELANGELO, TEASDALE, MAZER AND RANSOM IN THE ELITE EIGHT!!

Here are the Winners of the Sweet Sixteen Contests:

I love to sleep, still more to sleep In stone while pain and shame exist: not see, or feel, or be kissed; so do not wake me, or weep. —Michelangelo

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities, The fragile secret of a flower, Music, the making of a poem That gave me heaven for an hour. —Teasdale

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. —Coleridge

Our talk had been serious and sober, But our thoughts they were palsied and sear—Our memories were treacherous and sere—For we knew not the month was October, And we marked not the night of the year.  —Poe

But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I can run Quickly to the green earth’s end, Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, And from thence can soar as soon To the corners of the moon.  —Milton

‘Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue By female lips and eyes—that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have been; They smile so when one’s right, and when one’s wrong They smile still more, and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a chaste kiss—I learned the little that I know by this.  —Byron

The basement casements, dusty with disuse, convey with their impregnably abstruse recalcitrance an inner life, to all who are among the living of no use. The wide walkways of the stars divide chapters of our lives like music in reverse.  —Mazer

There was such speed in her little body, And such lightness in her footfall, It is no wonder her brown study Astonishes us all.  —Ransom

Wow.  The upsets continue.

Michelangelo continues his amazing run, eliminating the best lyric poet of the 20th century, Tom Eliot (and his lovely, haunting ‘sea-girls wreathed with seaweed’ passage) with a remarkable, concise meditation on stony sleep!

The placid and beautiful verse of Teasdale runs roughshod over Wordsworth!

Coleridge versus Tennyson was a clash of titans, but the author of “Kubla Khan” prevailed!

Poe had his hands full with Keats, but that rhythm!  Poe’s got rhythm!

Milton easily dispatched Ashbery.

Byron knocked off Shelley, and deserves to be here!

Mazer may be the best poet of his generation; Mazer beat Chin in a Scarriet rematch between these two American poets.

Ransom, an underestimated lyric master (“Astonishes” astonishes rhythmically) advances over an icon, Alexander Pope!

The March Madness 2015 Poetry Tourney is now down to 8 poets!

Michelangelo versus Teasdale is next. One of these Cinderella teams will have to go! So sad.

THE SWEET SIXTEEN!

For T.S Eliot, the incense stained Moderinst, the road to the Elite Eight goes through Rome and Michelangelo.

Michelangelo has laid aside hammer and brush and pulled two upsets in a row in an elite English-speaking poetry tournament, the only one of its kind in the world. Rumors are the Pope will attend this contest.

Sarah Teasdale must conquer the iconic Wordsworth; so far she has aimed at the simple heart and won. How many more hearts can she break? Will Wordsworth counter with sentiment of his own? Or be cold and dignified?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Alfred Tennyson. Enough said!

Poe battles Keats!  Half these battles for the Elite Eight feature a Brit versus an American, and this is one of them.  Poe admired Keats, but he was happy to knock down perceived English superiority which existed then.

Milton, who was not known for his sense of humor, plays Ashbery, who, one could argue, is never serious.

The two friends, Byron and Shelley, tangle by a crystal lake at midnight.

Mazer and Chin have met in a previous Scarriet March Madness, with Mazer winning a big one. Chin out for revenge. She is one of two women left in the tournament.

And, in an interesting twist, Ransom, the “The T.S. Eliot of the American South,” whose collected poetry Mazer just published, continues his underdog run against Alexander Pope.

Eliot v. Michelangelo

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown. —Eliot

I love to sleep, still more to sleep In stone while pain and shame exist: not see, or feel, or be kissed; so do not wake me, or weep. —Michelangelo

Wordsworth v. Teasdale

The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose, The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare, waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair. —Wordsworth

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities, The fragile secret of a flower, Music, the making of a poem That gave me heaven for an hour. —Teasdale

Coleridge v. Tennyson

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. —Coleridge

Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell, When I embark. —Tennyson

Poe v. Keats

Our talk had been serious and sober, But our thoughts they were palsied and sear—Our memories were treacherous and sere—For we knew not the month was October, And we marked not the night of the year.  —Poe

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.  —Keats

Milton v. Ashbery

But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I can run Quickly to the green earth’s end, Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, And from thence can soar as soon To the corners of the moon.  —Milton

Some departure from the norm Will occur as time grows more open about it. The consensus gradually changed; nobody Lies about it any more.  —Ashbery

Byron v. Shelley

‘Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue By female lips and eyes—that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have been; They smile so when one’s right, and when one’s wrong They smile still more, and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a chaste kiss—I learned the little that I know by this.  —Byron

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? —Shelley

Chin v. Mazer

My cousin calls him Allah my sister calls him Jesus my brother calls him Krishna my mother calls him Gautama I call him on his cell phone But he does not answer. —Chin

The basement casements, dusty with disuse, convey with their impregnably abstruse recalcitrance an inner life, to all who are among the living of no use. The wide walkways of the stars divide chapters of our lives like music in reverse.  —Mazer

Pope v. Ransom

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown, Thus unlamented, let me die, Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lie.  —Pope

There was such speed in her little body, And such lightness in her footfall, It is no wonder her brown study Astonishes us all.  —Ransom

SWEET SIXTEEN IN BRACKETS THREE AND FOUR

The Scarriet March Madness Poetry competition brings out the good times in everyone.

Spoiler: Results precede list of contests below.

When we judge poems we know them better than when we merely read them.

When we judge, we come face to face with the sea of meaning and are forced to entertain the following truth: meaning exists or it does not; since meaning is vast and misty to the ordinary understanding, and there is a tendency to equate poetry with mist, we assume in error that it is not this simple: but it is this simple; the poet who attempts to slyly evade meaning (like the painter who colorfully adorns and is merely abstract in an attempt to be mysterious) fails.

We either understand the poem (or a part of the poem) or we do not.

This of course does not mean that when we understand the poem, it succeeds. We may understand and reject. But to the wise judge it is easy to see when the poet is deliberately trying not to be understood in order not to be rejected. These efforts are the worst failures of all, even though they are sometimes considered successes—so do so many fear rejection.

When musical poetry supports a banality, at least we have the music—this was the 19th century view, or so it seems to us moderns, who, instead, scorn the music which sells itself to banality, and would rather put faith in unadorned speech which says something, and, even if it doesn’t really ‘say something,’ we like it anyway if it does so without condescending to musicality, which is considered the highest insult, so long was the musical error indulged in previously.

We start with music and fit in ‘saying something’ or we start with ‘saying something’ and hope it rises to music; the former is considered the 19th century way and the latter the new way, or, the currently accepted way. Then of course there is the third way, accepted today in some circles, that this ‘fit’ and ‘rise’ itself is false. And further, this third way can be even more radical and call ‘saying something’ false as a rule—in poetry, or, perhaps, altogether. And as we travel the circle towards ultimate skepticism we may end up back at pure music and the stern post-post modern conceptualist is suddenly transformed into the lisping Romantic heartsick tuneful dandy.

These considerations go into:

Pope toys with Williams, Mazer rips Rilke, Chin punishes Gluck, Ransom downs Dante, Sassoon and Ashbery in OT, Shelley nips Parker, Byron hammers Harper, and Milton murders Bernstein. The dictum, ‘it means something or it does not’ requires a focus, a narrowing, a simplicity, perhaps more than anything else. In poetry as in life, to be unduly mysterious is the sign of the pompously creepy.

BRACKET THREE

Milton: Virtue could see to do what Virtue would By her own radiant light, though sun and moon Were in the flat sea sunk. But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the mid-day sun; Himself is his own dungeon.

v.

Bernstein: What do you mean by rashes of ash? Is industry systematic work, assiduous activity, or ownership of factories? Is ripple agitate lightly? Are we tossed in tune when we write poems? And what or who emboss with gloss insignias of air?

***

Byron: She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes; Thus mellowed to that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

v.

Harper: We reconstruct lives in the intensive care unit, pieced together in a buffet dinner: two widows with cancerous breasts in their balled hands; a 30-year-old man in a three-month coma from a Buick and a brick wall; a woman who bleeds off and on from her gullet; a prominent socialite, our own nurse, shrieking for twins, “her bump gone”; the gallery of veterans, succored, awake, without valves, some lungs gone.

***

Shelley: Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert, That from Heaven, or near it, Pourest thy full heart In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. We look before and after, And pine for what is not: Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

v.

Parker: My love runs by like a day in June, And he makes no friends of sorrows. He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon In the pathway of the morrows. He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start, Nor could storm or wind uproot him. My own dear love, he is all my heart,—And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

***

Ashbery: The time of day or the density of the light Adhering to the face keeps it Lively and intact in a recurring wave Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.

v.

Sassoon: I lived my days apart, Dreaming fair songs for God; By the glory in my heart Covered and crowned and shod.

BRACKET FOUR

Dante: There is a gentle thought that often springs to life in me, because it speaks of you. Its reasoning about love’s so sweet and true, the heart is conquered, and accepts these things.

v.

Ransom: For I could tell you a story which is true; I know a woman with a terrible tongue, Blear eyes fallen from blue, All her perfections tarnished — yet it is not long Since she was lovelier than any of you.

***

Chin: A flower and yet not a flower A dream and yet not a dream At midnight he comes to my bed At daylight he returns to the dead

v.

Gluck: Night covers the pond with its wing. Under the ringed moon I can make out your face swimming among minnows and the small echoing stars. In the night air the surface of the pond is metal.

***

Rilke: His gaze, from passing on the bars around him, has grown so weary, no more can it bear. It seems as if a thousand bars surround him. Beyond those thousand bars, there is nowhere.

v.

Mazer: I talked the universe out of my head, and you were my mirror. I was understood! The poetry we wrote was more than good, it was unreal and real. Now what we feel descends to that world which exists beyond the grave. Where no one sleeps, and language is our slave.

***

Williams: munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand They taste good to her They taste good to her They taste good to her

v.

Pope: But as the slightest Sketch, if justly trac’d, Is by ill Colouring but the more disgrac’d, So by false Learning is good Sense defac’d. Some are bewilder’d in the Maze of Schools, And some made Coxcombs Nature meant but Fools. In search of Wit these lose their common Sense, And then turn Criticks in their own Defense.

TEASDALE AND MICHELANGELO IN SWEET 16!

Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, does not belong to the English-speaking poetry canon.

Michelangelo’s success in this year’s Scarriet March Madness perhaps proves nothing—after all, this tournament features excerpted lines, not entire poems.

The experiment has nonetheless proved interesting. First, Michelangelo is an interesting discovery. His poetry is good. Even in the English translations available.

And secondly, with the assertion that “a long poem does not exist,” Edgar Poe, in the mid-19th century, ushered in a new criterion. It is really very simple, and Scarriet has followed Poe’s insight to its logical conclusion: poetry is poetry in as much as it pleases immediately, and in its smallest parts: prose can be unremarkable as it builds; poetry we define as that which is remarkable right away: it is poetry as much as it makes an impression right away—in one line, or a few.

Therefore, let’s be frank: the modern prose poem, which takes time to unfold and make its “poetic” impression on the reader, hasn’t got a chance in this tournament.

And let’s be even more frank: what is the advantage of writing poetry which is not poetry?

Or, to put it another way: is there anything wrong with the type of writing which makes a strong impression immediately?

We cannot think of any reason—touching on pleasure, usefulness, or pedagogy—why this type of writing does not deserve the highest acclaim, should not be considered an expression of the highest virtue.

And yet—who writes like this anymore:

Fate is a wind and red leaves fly before it Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year—Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking, I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

Which poet today produces work like the above—to critical acclaim?

None.

And yet here is that type of writing which deserves notice—which moves, entertains, pleases on its own and also demonstrates what language itself can do.

And poetry—which is the very best at doing the most important human activity of all: expression—chooses another path, the same path which prose treads.

We find this whole state of affairs—and we love prose—just a little disconcerting.

So let us throw, a little sadly, rose petals at Sarah Teasdale, and congratulate her, with the rest.

Of course, Tennyson, won.  Is the following old, or good?  We say it may be old, but it is also very, very good—whatever else we call it.

My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; my dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.

Tennyson probably asked for tea in the way any person would—and when writing poetry such as this, he was practicing to make poetry of the highest order—which it is.

It seems a little ridiculous to condemn verse such as this as “old-fashioned.”

This would be like calling the work which graces the Sistine Chapel “old-fashioned.”

The label “old-fashioned,” applied to Tennyson, and to great verse, should make a person of good taste wince, and cringe.

Here’s the Sweet Sixteen from Brackets one and two:

Michelangelo (d. Marlowe)

Teasdale (d. Dowson)

Eliot (d. Arnold)

Wordsworth (d. Merwin)

Coleridge (d. Wylie)

Poe (d. Frost)

Keats (d. Khayyam)

Tennyson (d. Marvell)

SECOND ROUND MARCH MADNESS ACTION!

BRACKET ONE

Marlowe: Was this the face that launched a thousand ships And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips.

v.

Michelangelo: Thus thy sudden kindness shown to me Amid the gloom where only sad thoughts reign, With too much rapture bringing light again, Threatens my life more than that agony.

***

Dowson: I cried for madder music and for stronger wine, But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire, Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine; And I am desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.  

v.

Teasdale: Fate is a wind, and red leaves fly before it Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year—Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking, I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

***

Eliot: With the other masquerades That time resumes, One thinks of all the hands That are raising dingy shades In a thousand furnished rooms.

v.

Arnold: The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.

***

Wordsworth: She dwelt among the untrodden ways Beside the springs of Dove, Maid whom there were none to praise And very few to love.

v.

Merwin: Naturally it is night. Under the overturned lute with its One string I am going my way Which has a strange sound

 

BRACKET TWO

Coleridge: Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,’Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only to break The silence of the sea!

v.

Wylie: Avoid the reeking herd, Shun the polluted flock, Live like that stoic bird, the eagle of the rock.

***

Poe: I was a child and she was a child, In this kingdom by the sea, But we loved with a love that more than love—I and my Annabel Lee—

v.

Frost: Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun

***

Khayyam: Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring Your winter garment of repentance fling: The Bird of Time has but a little way To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing.

v.

Keats: Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men Look’d at each other with a wild surmise Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

***

Marvell: Had we but world enough and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

v.

Tennyson: My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; My dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.

 

 

MARCH MADNESS FIRST ROUND—PLENTY OF UPSETS!

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The biggest upset?

Bracket Two: Elinor Wylie (b 1885) 16th seed, knocks off number one seed Shakespeare! “Let Me Not Admit Impediments…” fell to “I was being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset. I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get.” Good for you, Elinor. Women everywhere are now wearing Wylie T-shirts.

Another shocker in Bracket Four thrilled poetry fans: No. 1 Seed Homer (“Sing in me Muse”) was edged out by John Crowe Ransom’s “Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail. And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, it is so frail.”

Lines of a highly developed music are the successful ones so far.

Translations are at a disadvantage, generally. Michelangelo, however, advanced past Blake in another upset in Bracket One. Michelangelo is ignored as a poet, perhaps, simply because he was such a great artist.

Michael S. Harper pulled off the only upset in Bracket Three, where every higher seed advanced except Wilfred Owen, who lost to Harper’s

“Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks, in a net, under water in Charleston harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you?”

A traditional sort of lyric beauty doesn’t always win.

But icons of yore did tend to prevail.

Milton, with his solemn music, for instance:

“The world was all before them, where to choose their Place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way.”

Did have trouble beating this by Patricia Lockwood:

“The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke.”

The Lockwood had a certain tragedy, strangeness, focus, and interest.

This by Byron, however:

“Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon.”

Had no trouble dispatching the following by Graham, which feels flat by comparison:

“On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself.”

We will not reveal the precise score of the game, as we do not wish to embarrass Ms. Graham.

Joining Wylie in another upset victory for women, Gluck, 14th seeded in the Fourth Bracket, outlasted Pound.

Plath and Sexton did not advance, however, as Wordsworth’s “No motion has she now” proved too much for Plath’s “a man in black with a Meinkampf look” and Sexton’s “her kind” lost in what must be considered an upset to Ben Mazer’s “Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere…”

The pure audaciousness and oddness of Mazer’s humor proved unique, and too much for Sexton to handle.

There is a certain lyric majesty and poignancy which sometimes can appear to take itself a little too seriously in a reader’s mind when it comes up against a certain clever type of opponent.

The momentary matchup means a great deal in terms of critical judgement.

And thus the thrill of Poetry March Madness.

Here are the 32 survivors after the first round of play:

Bracket One:

Marlowe (def. Auden), Michelangelo (def. Blake), Dowson (def. Von Duyn), Eliot (def. Swenson), Wordsworth (def. Plath), Merwin (def. Emerson), Arnold (def. Dunbar), Teasdale (def. Dickinson)

Bracket Two:

Wylie (def. Shakespeare), Coleridge (def. Stevens), Frost (def. Barrett), Keats (def. Raleigh), Poe (def. Whitman), Khayyam (def. Swinburne), Marvell (def. Seeger), Tennyson (def. Gray)

Bracket Three:

Milton (def. Lockwood), Byron (def. Graham), Shelley (def. Carson), Harper (def. Owen), Ashbery (def. Millay), Sassoon (def. Larkin), Parker (def. Rich), Bernstein (def. Reznikoff)

Bracket Four:

Ransom (def. Homer), Dante (def. Donne), Gluck (def. Pound), Chin (def. Longfellow), Mazer (def. Sexton), Pope (def. Pushkin), Rilke (def. Carroll), Williams (def. Ginsberg)

Congratulations to the winners!

 

 

 

SCARRIET ROCKED 2014!

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Thomas Brady: the simpleton who writes it all

In the 365 days of 2014, Scarriet brought you half that many original items: poems of lyric poignancy, articles on the popular culture, essays of Literary Criticism, the occasional humor piece, and the Literary Philosophy March Madness Tournament—in which Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Freud, Baudelaire, Woolf, De Beauvoir, Marx, Maimonides, Wilde, Poe, Emerson, Wordsworth, Pope, Wollstonecraft, Butler, Rich, Frye, Mallarme, Adorno, and 44 others sought immortality against one another in an orgy of wit and game.

Without further ado, here (with publication dates) are the most notable of the past year:

1. The One Hundred Greatest Hippie Songs 2/13.  This wins based on numbers. Over 15,000 views for this post alone in 2014, and it is averaging 120 views per day for the last 3 months, with views increasing, nearly a year after its publication. It’s always nice when an article has legs like this. We’re not sure what ‘search engine magic’ has made 100 Greatest Hippie Songs so popular. Prophetically, in the piece, we wrote, “All American music is hippie music.”

2. This Novel Has More Information Than You Need 9/18.  An essay provocative and charming at once.

3. No Boobs! 11/27. Hilarious (part two) satiric commentary on the December issue of Vanity Fair

4. The Problem With Rhetoric 5/1. Pushing the intellectual envelope is perhaps what we do best. In this essay we argue that reason does not exist.

5. Integration of Poetry and Life 11/3.  Another nice essay of essential Scarrietesque provocation smoothly rendered.

6. Marjorie Perloff, Adam Kirsch & Philip Nikolayev at the Grolier 9/15. Wearing a journalist’s hat, we meet Perloff, debate her, win her over, and demolish Concrete Poetry for our readers, as well.

7. Poe and the Big Bang: “The Body and the Soul Walk Hand in Hand” 3/10. Poe does most of the lifting here; a crucial addition to Scarriet’s campaign to lift the slander-fog hiding the world’s greatest mind.

8. Badass, Funny, But Alas Not Critic-Proof 6/27.  Tough love for the poet/professor David Kirby. And for those who fret Scarriet is too rancorous, relax; ‘The Kirb’ is still a FB friend. We don’t flatter—that’s the secret.

9. Is Gay Smarter Than Straight? 2/3. Only Scarriet would dare to ask—and really answer this question.

10. Rape Joke II 6/14.  We delivered a true poem; it offended one of our loyal readers for not being feminist enough; even though our poem was true, it was somehow supposed as an insult against Lockwood. We stand by our poem which is true, if imitative. We value originality, but since when was art that imitates a bad thing? We also admit we wrote the poem to become well-known. We played it up on twitter. So what? Scarriet believes everyone deserves to be famous.

11. Poe v. Wordsworth 8/18. March Madness contests are always excuses for brilliant essays. We made use of a wonderful book: Michael Kubovy’s The Psychology of Perspective in Renaissance Art.

12. “I Still Do” 10/13 Nice poem.

13. Chin & Weaver at the Grolier 7/21. Meeting up with California-based Marilyn Chin at a reading becomes an excuse to write an essay on the laws of poetic fame.

14. Painters & Artists Need to Shut Up 6/23.  Usually we pick on the poets.

15. Rage In America 7/7.  A political corrective to Jim Sleeper’s Fourth of July essay.

16. Poetry Hot 100 10/8.  Scarriet releases these now-famous lists several times a year. Valerie Macon topped this one.

17. What Does The History of Poetry Look Like 12/2. We often bash T.S. Eliot and the Modernists; here we lay down a genuinely insightful appreciation of Eliot’s Tradition.

18. Valerie Macon! 10/6. The credentialing complex destroyed Macon. We did a radical thing. We looked at her poetry, after she graciously sent samples.  Memo to the arrogant: her poetry is good.

19. 100 Greatest Folk Songs 11/17.  Not just a list: an assessment aimed at revival. Don’t just reflect the world. Change it.

20. The Avant-Garde Is Looking For A New (Black) Boyfriend 11/8.  A popular zeitgeist post inspired by Cathy Hong, which got po-biz stirred up for a few days.

21. Religion Is More Scientific Than Science 12/15.  An interesting discussion of free-will. Yes, we take comments.

22. Poetry, Meta-Modernism, & Leonardo Da Vinci 1/6.  Da Vinci compares poetry and painting in fascinating ways.

23. De Beauvoir v. Rich 4/22.  Scarriet’s March Madness contest yields essay on Behaviorism and Feminism.

24. Sex, Sex, Sex! 10/19. An interesting essay (obviously) in typical Scarriet (Are you serious?? We are.) mode.

25. Philip Nikolayev 11/15.  An excuse to try out ideas while praising a poet and friend.

26. “Poetry Without Beauty Is Vanity” 10/17.  A lyric poem which ‘gets’ rap.

27. Harold Bloom v. Edmund Wilson 8/13. Wilson was a real force in March Madness and so is this essay.

28. Fame: Is It Really Hollow? 7/2.  An exciting essay using Scarriet standbys The Beatles and Poe.

29. 100 Greatest Rock Songs Of All Time 5/9. The definitive list. Another constantly visited post.

30. 100 Essential Books of Poetry 5/21. People love lists. We get it now.

31. “Not Everyone Is Beautiful” 6/5.  A lovely little poem.

32. All Fiction Is Non-Fiction 5/19.  Scarriet makes the counter-intuitive simple.

33. The Good Economy 12/30.  We nail a simple but brain-teasing truth which rules us all.

34. Fag Hags, Cock Teases, and Richard Wagner 11/11. A bitter essay on a complex topic.

35. 100 Greatest Jazz Vocal Standards 10/14. And the Scarriet hits just keep on coming.

36. Hey Lao Tzu 10/27.  Scarriet takes down the wisest of the wise.

37. Ben Mazer At The Grolier 10/20.  The Neo-Romantic genius gets the Scarriet treatment.

38. “A Holiday Poem” 12/14.  An offensive poem written from a persona; it’s not our opinion.

39. Misanthrope’s Delight 6/11. An amusing list which makes light of misanthropy.

40. “What Could Be More Wrong Than A Poem Stolen From A Song?” A lyric gem.

And that’s our Scarriet top 40 for 2014!!

Be sure to read these if you missed them!

Scarriet thanks all our readers!

And especially the great comments! You know who you are! Always welcome and encouraged!

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

WILDE AND BAUDELAIRE TANGLE FOR THE LAST FINAL FOUR SPOT!

 

WILDE:

All art is immoral. For emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of art, and emotion for the sake of action is the aim of life, and of that practical organization of life that we call society. Society, which is the beginning and basis of morals, exists simply for the concentration of human energy, and in order to ensure its own continuance and healthy stability it demands, and no doubt rightly demands, of each of its citizens that she should contribute some form of productive labor to the common weal, and toil and travail that the day’s work must be done. Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. The beautiful sterile emotions that art excites in us are hateful in its eyes, and so completely are people dominated by the tyranny of this dreadful social ideal that they are always coming shamelessly up to one at Private Views and other places that are open to the general public, and saying in a loud, stentorian voice, “What are you doing?” whereas “What are you thinking?” is the only question that any single civilized being should ever be allowed to whisper to another. They mean well, no doubt, these honest, beaming folk. Perhaps that is the reason why they are so excessively tedious. But someone should teach them that while, in the opinion of society, contemplation is the gravest sin of which any citizen can be guilty, in the opinion of the highest culture it is the proper occupation of man.

It is far more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. Let me say to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato, with his passion for wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy. To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest form of energy, also. It was to this that the passion for holiness led the saint and the mystic of the medieval days.

It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and relative. Unlimited and absolute is the vision of him who sits and ease and watches, who walks in loneliness and dreams.

BAUDELAIRE:

If I speak of love in connection with dandyism, this is because love is the natural occupation of the idle. The dandy does not, however, regard love as a special target to be aimed at. If I have spoken of money, this is because money is indispensable to those who make a cult of their emotions; but the dandy does not aspire to money as to something essential; this crude passion he leaves to vulgar mortals; he would be perfectly content with a limitless credit at the bank. Dandyism does not even consist, as many thoughtless people seem to believe, in an immoderate taste for the toilet and material elegance. For the perfect dandy these things are no more than symbols of his aristocratic superiority of mind. Furthermore to his eyes, which are in love with distinction above all things, the perfection of his toilet will consist in absolute simplicity, which is the best way, in fact, of achieving the desired quality. What then is this passion, which, becoming doctrine, has produced such a school of tyrants? what this unofficial institution which has formed so haughty and exclusive a sect? It is first and foremost the burning need to create for oneself a personal originality, bounded only by the limits of the properties. It is a kind of cult of the self which can nevertheless survive the pursuit of a happiness to be found in someone else—in woman, for example; which can even survive all that goes by in the name of illusions. It is the joy of astonishing others, and the proud satisfaction of never oneself being astonished. A dandy may be blasé, he may even suffer; but in this case, he will smile like the Spartan boy under the fox’s tooth.

Dandyism is the last spark of heroism amid decadence; and the type of dandy discovered by our traveler in North America does nothing to invalidate this idea; for how can we be sure that those tribes which we call ‘savage’ may not in fact be the disjecta membra of great extinct civilizations? Dandyism is a sunset; like the declining daystar, it is glorious, without heat and full of melancholy. But alas, the rising tide of democracy, which invades and levels everything, is daily overwhelming these last representatives of human pride and pouring floods of oblivion upon the footprints of these stupendous warriors.

Wilde and Baudelaire!  Connoisseurs of the decadent! Pronounce the sweet success of the manque!  Hold in your hands the flower of bad poetry!

The Modern flips the Classical: all that is holy, energetic and good for the latter is sterile and stiff and empty for the former.

The flip is all that matters.  The elements themselves do not matter. The new mood is all.

I once loved all that you were. Time passed. I became bored. Now I hate all that you were. Ah, the history of art!

The Modern bracket had to come to this. Wilde. Baudelaire. My twin!  My double! — Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

You are me.  And I hate you.  For the dandy must resent not only “the rising tide of democracy” but the rival dandy, as well.  Easy to identify, as Baudelaire does, a tribesman across the sea as a dandy: no chance they will rival you.

Wilde and Baudelaire both define the dandy beautifully—and of course the dandy is timeless, not merely modern—but we finally trust Wilde a little more.  Baudelaire slips, we believe, with his dying-ember praise of “warriors.”  Wilde wins by simply refusing to stir.

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

 

J.L. AUSTIN AND EDMUND WILSON IN POST-MODERN BRACKET SEEK TO ADVANCE TO THE FINAL FOUR

J.L. Austin: Can this Englishman advance past Princeton’s Edmund Wilson to the  Final Four?

WILSON:

The old nineteenth-century criticism of Ruskin, Renan, Taine, Sainte-Beauve, was closely allied to history, and novel writing, and was also the vehicle for all sorts of ideas about the purpose and destiny of human life in general. The criticism of our own day examines literature, art, ideas, and specimens of human society in the past with a detached scientific interest or a detached aesthetic which seems in either case to lead nowhere. A critic like Herbert Read makes dull discriminations between different kinds of literature; a critic like Albert Thibaudet discovers dull resemblances between the ideas of philosophers and poets; a critic like I.A. Richards writes about poetry from the point of view of a scientist studying the psychological reactions of readers; and such a critic as Clive Bell writes about painting so exclusively and cloyingly  from the point of view of the varying degrees of pleasure to be derived from the pictures of different painters that we would willingly have Ruskin and his sermonizing back. And even Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey have this in common with Clive Bell that they seem to feel they have done enough when they have distinguished the kind of pleasure to be derived from one kind of book, the kind of interest to be felt in one kind of personality, from the kind to be found in another. One is supposed to have read everything and enjoyed everything and to understand exactly the reasons for one’s enjoyment, but not to enjoy anything excessively nor to raise an issue of one kind of thing against another. Each of the essays of Strachey or Mrs. Woolf, so compact yet so beautifully rounded out, is completely self-contained and does not lead to anything beyond itself; and finally, for all their brilliance, we begin to find them tiresome.

AUSTIN:

The more you think about truth and falsity the more you find that very few statements that we ever utter are just true or just false. Usually there is the question are they fair or are they not fair, are they adequate or not adequate, are they exaggerated or not exaggerated? Are they too rough, or are they perfectly precise, accurate, and so on? ‘True’ and ‘false’ are just general labels for a whole dimension of different appraisals which have something or other to do with the relation between what we say and the facts. If, then, we loosen up our ideas of truth and falsity we shall see that statements, when assessed in relation to the facts, are not so very different after all from pieces of advice, warnings, verdicts, and so on.

We see then that stating something is performing an act just as much as is giving an order or giving a warning; and we see, on the other hand, that, when we give an order or a warning or a piece of advice, there is a question about how this is related to fact which is not perhaps so very different from the kind of question that arises when we discuss how a statement is related to fact.  Well, this seems to mean in its original form our distinction between the performative and the statement is considerably weakened, and indeed breaks down. I will just make a suggestion as to how to handle this matter. We need to go very much farther back, to consider all the ways and senses in which saying anything at all is doing this or that—because of course it is always doing a good many different things. And one thing that emerges when we do do this is that, beside the question that has been very much studied in the past as to what a certain utterance means, there is a further question distinct from this as to what was the force, as we may call it, of the utterance. We may be quite clear what ‘Shut the door’ means, but not yet at all clear on the further point as to whether as uttered at a certain time it was an order, an entreaty or whatnot. What we need besides the old doctrine about meanings is a new doctrine about all the possible forces of utterances, towards the discovery of which our proposed list of explicit performative verbs would be a very great help; and then, going on from there, an investigation of the various terms of appraisal that we use in discussing speech-acts of this, that, or the other precise kind—orders, warnings, and the like.

The notions that we have considered then, are the performative, the infelicity, the explicit performative, and lastly, rather hurriedly, the notion of the forces of utterances. I dare say that all this seems a little unremunerative, and I suppose it ought to be remunerative. At least, though, I think that if we pay attention to these matters we can clear up some mistakes in philosophy; and after all philosophy is used as a scapegoat, it parades mistakes which are really the mistakes of everybody. We might even clear up some mistakes in grammar, which perhaps is a little more respectable.

And is it complicated? Well, it is complicated a bit; but life and truth and things do tend to be complicated. It’s not things , it’s philosophers that are simple. You will have heard it said, I expect, that over-simplification is the occupational disease of philosophers, and in a way one might agree with that. But for a sneaking suspicion that it’s their occupation.

Here we have two classic different types of Criticism: Austin (b. 1911) is asking what we are really doing when we say things, while Wilson (b. 1895) is asking what did those people over there say that gave us, or did not give us pleasure? The one is a philosopher, the other a critic.

Both these approaches do share a belief that meaning exists behind, not in, the text. We know what “shut the door” means, says Austin, but does it mean, “shut the door, or else!” or “oh I beg you, please, please shut the door”? Language, according to Austin, is the door, but there is something besides language which is coming through the door to potentially help us, or do us harm. The performative reality of ‘shut the door’ is precisely what fiction and poetry convey, by dramatizing expression.

So in that sense, a critic of literature like Wilson is following Austin’s philosophy by judging dramatic expression—literature.

Would Austin agree that literature is a “speech-act?” If so, it is interesting how Austin attempts to go beyond speech to something more real—and then runs smack into fiction. And does not literature make warnings and give advice?

On the other hand, a book could never order us to “shut the door.” But by replicating actions and showing intelligence, literature has that performative “force” which Austin is trying to get us to understand is always involved in even ordinary language.  Not just what an utterance means, Austin says, but its force. The question of charisma and force of personality arises; some individuals have forceful personalities even as they may not be big in stature or smart; but somehow their word is law. Then we have law itself, and its force.

There are complex forces of which words are merest shadows, and words’ attempt to describe the sun only enhances their shadowy nature. Between the thing and its representation there is something far more important: “I pronounce you man and wife” has a meaning, but more importantly, it is a performance, and it is with the performative that we escape the inexplicable sun and its shadow, “sun.”

Telling someone what to do is where language is clearest, and means the most.

Wilson prefers the 19th century novel of “life” to the exquisite vagueness of the modern literature; he thinks the novel is where the classical epic lives, not in contemporary poetry.

Austin seeks the performative “life” behind the meaning of language; Wilson, the “life” behind literature.

As Austin says, “it’s not things, it’s philosophers that are simple.” Wilson and Austin are really quite simple in what they say. Wilson and Austin are both asking us to read vertically, not horizontally—deeply more than widely. They are not New Critics. They are Old Critics. Throwbacks. They believe life is more important than speech.

Since philosophy of the kind Austin practices is mainly instinctual and steeped in common sense, in the long run it is probably less useful than Wilson’s, which is historical and more particular, and in many ways doing the same thing: criticism analyzing literature is like philosophy analyzing language—since it is finally what is happening ‘behind the scenes’ (Is this person good, or bad? What do they want? How are they trying to get it?) which is the object of our search, and there will never be one way to do this kind of search, given the complexity of human nature and human action.

WINNER: WILSON

COLERIDGE AND POE: TO THE FINAL FOUR ONLY ONE CAN GO

COLERIDGE:

What is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other. For it is a distinction resulting from the poetic genius itself, which sustains and modifies the images, thoughts, and emotions of the poet’s own mind.

The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, control reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea, with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion, with more than usual order; judgment ever awake, and steady self-possession, with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the artificial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry.

“Doubtless,” as Sir John Davies observes of the soul (and his words may with slight alteration be applied, and even more appropriately, to the poetic imagination):

Doubtless this could not be, but that she turns
Bodies to spirit by sublimation strange,
As fire converts to fire the things it burns,
As we our food into our nature change.

From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,
And draws a kind of quintessence from things;
Which to her proper nature she transforms,
To bear them light on her celestial wings.

Thus doth she, when from individual states
She doth abstract the universal kinds;
Which then re-clothed in divers names and fates
Steal access through our senses to our minds.

Finally, Good Sense is the Body of poetic genius, Fancy its Drapery, Motion its Life, and Imagination the Soul that is everywhere, and in each; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.

“The man that hath not music in his soul” can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery; affecting incidents; just thoughts; interesting personal or domestic feelings; and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem; may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talents and much reading, who, as I once before observed, has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural poetic genius; the love of the arbitrary end for a possession of the particular means. But the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination; and this together with the power of reducing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learned. It is in these that “poeta nascitur non fit.”

 

POE:

Against the subtleties which would make poetry a study—not a passion—it becomes the metaphysician to reason—but the poet to protest. Yet Wordsworth and Coleridge are men in years; the one imbued in contemplation from his childhood, the other a giant in intellect and learning. The diffidence, then, with which I venture to dispute their authority, would be overwhelming, did I not feel, from the bottom of my heart, that learning has little to do with the imagination—intellect with the passions—or age with poetry.  “Trifles, like straws, upon the surface flow/He who would search for pearls must dive below,” are lines which have done much mischief. As regards the greater truths, men oftener err by seeking them at the bottom than at the top; the depth lies in the huge abysses where wisdom is sought—not in the palpable places where she is found. The ancients were not always right in hiding the goddess in a well: witness the light which Bacon has thrown upon philosophy; witness the principle of our divine faith—that moral mechanism by which the simplicity of a child may overbalance the wisdom of a man.

We see an instance of Coleridge’s liability to err, in his Biographia Literaria—professedly his literary life and opinions, but, in fact, a treatise de omni scibili et quibusdam aliis. He goes wrong by reason of his very profundity, and of his error we have a natural type in the contemplation of a star. He who regards it directly and intensely sees, it is true, the star, but it is the star without a ray—while he who surveys it less inquisitively is conscious of all for which the star is useful to us below—its brilliancy and its beauty.

Of Coleridge I cannot speak but with reverence. His towering intellect! his gigantic power! He is one more evidence of the fact “que la plupart des sectes ont raison dans une bonne partie de ce qu’elles avancent, mais non pas en ce qu’elles nient.” He has imprisoned his own conceptions by the barrier he has erected against those of others. It is lamentable to think that such a mind should be buried in metaphysics, and, like the Nyctanthes, waste its perfume upon the night alone. In reading his poetry, I tremble—like one who stands upon a volcano, conscious, from the very darkness bursting from the crater, of the fire and the light that are weltering below.

Because, in poetry, there is no end of lines of apparently incomprehensible music, Coleridge thought proper to invent his nonsensical system of what he calls “scanning by accents,”—as if “scanning by accents” were anything more than a phrase. Whenever “Christabel” is really not rough, it can be as readily scanned by the true laws (not the suppositious rules) of verse, as can the simplest pentameter of Pope; and where it is rough these same laws will enable anyone of common sense to show why it is rough and to point out, instantaneously, the remedy for the roughness.

A reads and re-reads a certain line, and pronounces it false in rhythm—unmusical. B, however, reads it to A, and A is at once struck with the perfection of the rhythm, and wonders at his dullness in not “catching” it before. Henceforward he admits the line to be musical. B, triumphant, asserts that, to be sure, the line is musical—for it is the work of Coleridge—and that it is A who is not; the fault being in A’s false reading. Now here A is right and B wrong. That rhythm is erroneous , (at some point or other more or less obvious,) which any ordinary reader can, without design, read improperly. It is the business of the poet so to construct his line that the intention must be caught at once.

Is it not clear that, by tripping here and mouthing there, any sequence of words may be twisted into any species of rhythm? But are we thence to deduce that all sequences of words are rhythmical in a rational understanding of the term?—for this is the deduction, precisely to which the reductio ad absurdum will, in the end, bring all the propositions of Coleridge. Out of one hundred readers of “Christabel,” fifty will be able to make nothing of its rhythm, while forty-nine of the remaining fifty will, with some ado, fancy they comprehend it, after the fourth or fifth perusal. The one out of the whole hundred who shall both comprehend and admire it at first sight—must be an unaccountably clever person—and I am by far too modest to assume, for a moment, that that very clever person is myself.

And here the two titans, Poe and Coleridge, battle to win the Romantic Bracket and go to the Final Four—in the 2014 Scarriet March Madness Tournament of Literary Philosophy.  Plato, defeating Dante, has already made it to the Final Four; Wilde and Baudelaire, Austin and Wilson compete for the other two spots.

Coleridge is profound.

Poe laughs at Coleridge’s profundity.

Coleridge is clever by what he says: “The poet diffuses and fuses…” etc.

Poe is clever, not by what he says, but by what he points out—see his lesson: “A reads and re-reads a certain line, and pronounces it false…”

With Coleridge, we have: Before you use language, be sure you are very good at it.

With Poe, we have: Before you use language, don’t trust it.

With Coleridge, we have: the Poem is the Poet and the Poet is the whole world!

With Poe, we have: the Poem is rhythmic law.

Coleridge uses metaphor.

Poe uses sarcasm.

Coleridge hears.

Poe sees.

WINNER: POE

 

 

WILDE AND FREUD MIX IT UP IN MODERN BRACKET

Can Oscar Wilde move on to the Elite Eight?

Oscar Wilde’s “Critic As Artist” (1891) predates Sigmund Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” (1899, English translations soon followed) and comparing two key passages from these works suggests a similar world-spirit.

Wilde:

The difference between objective and subjective work is one of external form merely. It is accidental, not essential. All artistic creation is absolutely subjective. The very landscape that Corot looked at was, as he said himself, but a mood of his own mind; and those great figures of Greek or English drama that appear to us to possess an actual existence of their own, apart from the poets who shaped and fashioned them, are, in their ultimate analysis, simply the poets themselves, not as they thought they were, but as they thought they were not; and by such thinking came in strange manner, though but for a moment, really so to be. For out of ourselves we can never pass, nor can there be in creation what in the creator was not. In fact, I would say that the more objective a creation appears to be, the more subjective it really is. Shakespeare might have met Rosencrantz and Guilderstern in the white streets of London, or seen the serving men of rival houses bite their thumbs at each other in the open square; but Hamlet came out of his soul, and Romeo out of his passion. They were elements of his nature to which he gave visible form, impulses that stirred so strongly within him that he had, as it were, perforce, to suffer them to realize their energy, not on the lower plane of actual life, where they would have been trammelled and constrained and so made imperfect, but on that imaginative plane of art where love can indeed find in death its rich fulfillment, where one can stab the eavesdropper behind the arras, and wrestle in a new made grave, and make a guilty king drink his own hurt, and see one’s father’s spirit, beneath the glimpses of the moon, stalking in complete steel from misty wall to wall. Action, being limited, would have left Shakespeare unsatisfied and unexpressed; and, just as it is because he did nothing that he has been able to achieve everything, so it is because he never speaks to us of himself in his plays that his plays reveal him to us absolutely, and show us his true nature and temperament far more completely than do those strange and exquisite sonnets, even, in which he bares to crystal eyes the secret closet of his heart. Yes, the objective form is the most subjective in matter. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

Hello. Is this not a precise metaphor for psychoanalysis?  “Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”  Free association “covers” conscious, rational speech, allowing the speaker to speak from somewhere else in their soul. Wilde’s belief in subjectivity brings him right to the doorstep of Freudian psychology—before Freud. But more than that, Wilde reaches a passionate level of truth which turns his Criticism into poetry. The Creative Faculty of Shakespeare is not merely described by Wilde; he briefly inhabits it: “where one can stab the eavesdropper behind the arras…” We feel that Wilde is confessing what few dare: the poet who writes profoundly of murder does indeed entertain murderous thoughts as much, or more, than any actual murderer. The unconscious is real, but more so in the poet; poetry, or rather Criticism, invented psychology; it is no accident that Freud appears in the wake of the Romantics—who rediscovered Plato and Shakespeare—and in the Zeitgeist throes of Poe and Wilde.

Here’s the Freud passage:

Another of the great creations of tragic , Shakespeare’s Hamlet, has its roots in the same soil as Oedipus Rex. But the changed treatment of the same material reveals the whole difference in the mental life of these two widely separated epochs of civilization: the secular advance of repression in the emotional life of mankind. In the Oedipus the child’s wishful phantasy that underlies it is brought into the open and realized as it would be in a dream. In Hamlet it remains repressed; and—just as in the case of a neurosis—we only learn of its existence from its inhibiting consequences. Strangely enough, the overwhelming effect produced by the more modern tragedy has turned out to be compatible with the fact that people have remained completely in the dark as to the hero’s character. The play is built up on Hamlet’s hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him; but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations and an immense variety of attempts at interpreting them have failed to produce a result. According to the view which was originated by Goethe and is still the prevailing one today, Hamlet represents the type of man whose power of direct action is paralyzed by an excessive development of his intellect. The plot of the drama shows us, however, that Hamlet is far from being represented as a person incapable of taking any action. We see him doing so on two occasions: first in a sudden outburst of temper, when he runs his sword through the eavesdropper behind the arras, and secondly in a premeditated and even crafty fashion, when, with all the callousness of a Renaissance prince, he sends the two courtiers to the death that had been planned for himself. What is it, then, that inhibits him in fulfilling the task set him by his father’s ghost? The answer , once again, is that it is the peculiar nature of the task. Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized.

The real person—which is the highest and most important reality—is the chief topic for Wilde and Freud. By failing to act as a murderer, Shakespeare, nonetheless feeling within himself the reason and passion of murder, creates an “objective” document—the play, Hamlet, and the actions and speech of the character, Hamlet—which is, according to Wilde, a wholly subjective creation of the real person, Shakespeare. Reality, according to Wilde’s Romantic, artist-centered view, is a projection of a person’s soul, of Shakespeare’s soul: the passiveness of Hamlet is not the important thing, for Shakespeare has Hamlet wrestle in a new made grave and stab a royal official to death as he confronts his mother; and Freud agrees. Both Freud and Wilde reject the conventional wisdom that Hamlet doesn’t act—Hamlet very much does act, in a play that is an expression, not of history or convention or tradition or theme or playwright-method or language, but Shakespeare’s unique soul.

Freud, however, raises the stakes to a scientific level, whereas Wilde is content to let the unique art product be a sufficient reason for itself; the art creates criticism because criticism created the art in the first place; criticism for Wilde is not adversarial or analytic but creative; the objective is really subjective.

Freud, the doctor, is, as the critic, much different; Freud asserts that Hamlet refuses to kill his usurping uncle, the new king, because Shakespeare, like all men, has a repressed desire to murder his father and marry his mother.

Freud’s assertion is two-fold: the universal desire of patricide/mother-love with the repression of this desire: the repression creates a crucial objective/subjective split: but since the objective truth lurks within the repressed person, Freud’s “scientific” truth runs smack into Wilde’s literary one: the “objective truth” of Hamlet comes straight out of Shakespeare’s “subjective” soul. And this “subjective” soul, which meditates on murder so intensely that a famous play is the result, is by its very reason of meditating powerfully on murder, “repressed” in its nature and manner.

Wilde, then, can be said to prefigure Freud, for Wilde’s assertion, that objectivity is really subjectivity, intimates “repression” as that which necessitates Wilde’s assertion in the first place.

Freud posits “repression” or objectivity lurking in subjectivity as his thesis—it is the same as Wilde’s, generally. Freud, however, makes a wider assertion that objective reality itself is hiding another reality, beyond the subjective behavior of men, and therefore a certain kind of subjective behavior is determined by an objective truth in a universal (scientific) manner.

Two things must be said at this point, in favor of Wilde.  Freud’s Oedipal idea is subjectively Freud’s, firstly, and secondly, Freud’s Oedipal “truth,” which maintains that the objective is really subjective which is really objective is nothing but an endless binary sequence that demolishes, as it seeks to establish, the ‘subjective hiding the objective’ duality: Hamlet is Shakespeare’s subjective creation. This is a circular truism which spins due to the subjective/objective aspect of reality in the first place: the critic/doctor/psychoanalyst/scientist/lover/audience seeks “the truth” (objectivity) in a state of curious ignorance (subjectivity). Shakespeare plays his audience; Freud, in turn, plays Shakespeare, but Freud, like everyone else, is stuck in Shakespeare’s audience. The truth of the character Hamlet—why did he behave the way he did?—can never be known. The truth of Oedipus can likewise never be known, since the “repressed” loop of its subjectivity-becoming-objective is a “play” which blocks any attempt by an audience member to objectify it in a scientific manner.

According to Freud, Hamlet could not kill his uncle because he “knew” that he, Hamlet, was guilty in the same manner his uncle was, due to Hamlet’s own repressed desire to murder his father and sleep with his mother. And this, according to Freud’s startling critical analysis, is why Shakespeare, the author, portrayed Hamlet as he did. Freud ‘s “objective truth” necessarily travels through Shakespeare’s “subjective truth.” Hamlet cannot kill himself, or his subjectivity cannot kill his objectivity. So Freud repeats Wilde’s idea that the objective is really subjective, but Freud is attempting to “direct” the Subjective Shakespeare, which the very dynamic of ‘subjective versus objective’ as it has been examined here forbids him to do.

Where is the evidence that Shakespeare/Hamlet wants to kill his father and sleep with his mother? There is none. Hamlet expresses admiration for his father and disdain for his uncle before his mother; Hamlet champions his father, which is the very opposite of the Oedipal impulse. Freud’s analysis is subjective, then, and so for Wilde, becomes a kind of objective truth, if we follow his own reasoning. So we can almost say that Freud’s thesis is bunk, but it thrives in the atmosphere of Wilde’s half-agreement.

As an example, let us say the door to the men’s room in a restaurant somehow becomes shut, although the room is unoccupied, during restaurant hours. For a certain time, the assumption will be that the rest room is occupied. The objective truth is that the restroom is unoccupied. The (group) subjective perception is that the restroom is occupied. As long as men slip into the women’s restroom and a line does not form in front of the men’s room, the discovery of the locked men’s room door hides the truth; the closed door, whose message is “occupied” is hiding the truth: unoccupied. Hamlet does not attempt to enter the men’s room because he thinks it is occupied. The reason is very simple. It is because the door is shut. Hamlet does not attempt to kill his uncle. The door is shut on his attempt. The reason for Hamlet’s inaction and the fact of his inaction become one: the hidden or repressed fact of a closed door. Freud has found a trope as simple and profound as a closed door. But like the simple error which spread among the male patrons of the restaurant and became an “objective truth”, Freud’s theory caught on with its simple explanation, which turns out to be an error just as simple, and thus prone to be believed.

The restroom is not occupied. Hamlet’s hesitation in murdering his uncle is not due to Freud’s Oedipal theory.

The restroom is not occupied. Wilde opens the door and finds the objective truth. Now it is occupied. And you may not enter.

WINNER: WILDE

JOHN CROWE RANSOM TAKES ON BAUDELAIRE IN THE MODERN BRACKET

Ransom was the Southern American T.S. Eliot. He battles ‘the Father,’ Baudelaire.

Charles Baudelaire and John Crowe Ransom are icons of Modernism.

Ransom, the New Critic, defined Modernism explicitly, brilliantly, in his little known essay, “Poets Without Laurels, which he published in 1938. Baudelaire, closer to the origins of it, but just as self-consciously, in his Art criticism, defined Modernism, too.

Temperamentally, Ransom and Baudelaire are quite different: Baudelaire is the dandified Modernsist-rebel, Ransom, the stuffy Modernist-matter-of-fact. The arc of Modernism from Baudelaire to Ransom is highly instructive, though: the Modernist “rebel” of the 19th century is erased by Modernity’s 20th century “victory;” Baudelaire’s cry of “Join the Artificial Revolution!” is a tad redundant when it rings out in the 20th century surrounded by skyscrapers, airplanes, and TVs.

Baudelaire rebelled against nature: “Woe to him who, like Louis XV [died 1774] carries his degeneracy to the point of no longer having a taste for anything but nature unadorned.” The 18th century—which featured Pope saying Art is nothing but the Greeks and Nature, and which prepared the way for Romanticism’s humble embrace of the same—found itself attacked by Baudelaire:

We know that when [Louis XV’s mistress] wished to avoid receiving the king, she made a point of putting on rouge. It was quite enough, it was her way of closing the door. It was in fact by beautifying herself that she used to frighten away her royal disciple of nature.

But when we reach the 20th century, it is no longer possible to be a rebel by hating nature—for nature had been overthrown. Rousseau and his Nature worship becomes the hero of protest; Warhol’s Brillo Boxes are sarcastic, ironic: a joke at the expense of Baudelaire’s sacred artificiality. Post-modernism freed us from Modernism’s Futuristic and Artificial Pride by laughing at it—but unfortunately, or not, Modernism has had the last laugh: artificiality, like it or not, has won. Louis XV and Al Gore are both seen to love nature artificially, and what seems more artificial to us now than Alexander Pope? Cosmetics are all the rage, and nature poets are wise more than they are natural, just as natural and organic diet gurus are wise; American poetry, whether it is rap, Slam, Ashbery, or Collins, could not be more artificial or more removed from nature poetry: even Mary Oliver is wise rather than natural; we kill trees to publish books on saving trees. Baudelaire is an anti-Nature prophet, then, more than he is a rebel: he looked around at the teeming cities, the material improvements, the women making themselves lovely and available with their cosmetics and their freedom, and thought: here is the Future. As Baudelaire put it in his essay, “In Praise of Cosmetics:”

Nature teaches us nothing. I admit that she compels man to sleep, to eat, to drink, and to arm himself as well as he may against the inclemencies of the weather; but it is she too who incites man to murder his brother, to eat him, to lock him up and torture him; for no sooner do we take leave of the domain of needs and necessities to enter that of pleasures and luxury than we see that Nature can counsel nothing but crime. It is this infallible Mother Nature who has created patricide and cannibalism, and a thousand other abominations that both shame and modesty prevent us from naming. On the other hand it is philosophy (I speak of good philosophy) and religion which command us to look after our parents when they are poor and infirm. Nature, being none other than the voice of our self-interest, would have us slaughter them.

A prophet, indeed; for Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot were primitives who followed nature; they had no philosophy or religion. Philosophy and religion are means to fend off nature’s ultimate, all-encompassing self-interestedness—and find pleasure and sanity in a more subtle and piecemeal and laissez faire sort of way. Good philosophy listens to a host of small voices, and ignores the big ones. Communists and fascists are not philosophers and religious fanatics are not religious. Communists, fascists, and religious fanatics listen to the big voices. You would never find any of them speaking as Baudelaire does here:

Woman is quite within her rights, indeed she is even accomplishing a kind of duty, when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural; she has to astonish and charm us; as an idol, she is obliged to adorn herself in order to be adored. Thus she has to lay all the arts under contribution for the means of lifting herself above Nature, the better to conquer hearts and rivet attention. It matters but little that the artifice and trickery are known to all, so long as their success is assured and their effect always irresistible. By reflecting in this way the philosopher-artist will find it easy to justify all the practices adopted by women at all times to consolidate and as it were to make divine their fragile beauty.

Whether this is sexist rot or women’s liberation brilliantly and empathetically imparted, we are sure this is not how the Ayatollahs or the Communists or the Nazis talk: it is a beautiful antidote to that. It is a small voice worth listening to.

Ransom, in his description of Modernsim, is equally trivial and modest; Modernism, as Ransom sees it, is simply a practical method in which expertise is fragmented to handle things compartmentally. This might not be ideal. But Ransom essentially agrees with Baudelaire; he is talking in the same way. Ransom sees Modernism as that which rejects nature and big schemes and listens to the individual and his or her small voice, even if this produces a certain amount of alienation and dullness. We’ll quote the beginning of Ransom’s essay, “Poets Without Laurels,”; note how Ransom uses fanaticism’s “red banner” jokingly and ironically. Ransom begins with poetry; he then moves into Modernism as it applies to all aspects of life:

The poets I refer to in the title are the “moderns:” those whom a small company of adept readers enjoys, perhaps enormously, but the general public detests; those in whose hands poetry as a living art has lost its public support.

Consequently I do not refer to such poets as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost, who are evidently influenced by modernism without caring to “go modern” in the sense of joining the revolution; which is very much as if they had stopped at a mild or parlor variety of socialism, when all about them the brave, or at least the doctrinaire, were marching under the red banner. Probably they are wise in their time; they have laurels deservedly and wear them gracefully. But they do not define the issue which I wish to discuss. And still less do I refer to poets like E.A Robin. son, Sturge Moore, and John Masefield, who are even less modern; though I have no intention of questioning their laurels either. I refer to poets with no laurels.

I do not wish to seem to hold the public responsible for their condition, as if it had suddenly become phlegmatic, cruel, and philistine. The poets have certainly for their part conducted themselves peculiarly. They could not have estranged the public more completely if they had tried; and smart fellows as they are, they know very well what they have been doing, and what they are still stubborn in doing, and what the consequences are.

For they have failed more and more flagrantly, more and more deliberately, to identify themselves with the public interests, as if expressly to renounce the kind affections which poets had courted for centuries.

Poets used to be bards and patriots, priests and prophets, keepers of the public conscience, and, naturally, men of public importance. Society crowned them with wreaths of laurel, according to the tradition which comes to us from the Greeks and is perpetuated by official custom in England—and in Oklahoma. Generally the favor must have been gratefully received. But modern poets are of another breed. It is as if all at once they had lost their prudence as well as their piety, and formed a compact to unclasp the chaplet from their brows, inflicting upon themselves the humility of delaureation, and retiring from public responsibility and honors. It is this phenomenon which has thrown critical theory into confusion.

Sir Philip Sidney made the orthodox defense of poetry on the ground of the poet’s service to patriotism and virtue.

“He doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, a will entice any man to enter into it”

And what was the technique of enticement?

“With a tale forsooth he cometh unto you, with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner”

The poets, therefore, told entrancing tales, which had morals. But the fact was, also, that the poets were not always content to win to virtue by indirection, or enticement, but were prepared to preach with almost no disguise, and to become sententious and repetitious, and the literature which they created is crowded with precise maxims for the moralists. There it stands on the shelves now. Sometimes the so-called poet has been only a moralist with a poetic manner. And all the poets famous in our tradition, or very nearly all, have been poets of a powerful moral cast.

 

Ransom is trying to hide his bias in talking about the old poets; he is trying very hard not to show his hand—which is full of “moderns.” He succeeds, we think; I doubt even one in a hundred readers would be able to detect in Ransom’s carefully worded rhetoric his flagrant hatred of the old poet, together with his deep prejudice in favor of the “modern” poet.

First of all, who is Ransom talking about when he says, “the poets…were prepared to preach with almost no disguise?” The “poets famous in our tradition” are precisely those who transcend mere moralizing; further, Ransom writes of “precise maxims for the moralists” as if morality did not belong to him and you and me, but thrived in a shadowy group of inquisitorial persons to which the old poets like Sidney were slaves: “the moralists.” Who are these “moralists?” They are nobodies. They are the unnamed invention of Mr. Ransom, who intends to snatch autonomy away from the old poets and make them seem mere servants—as opposed to the “moderns,” who happen—who just happen—to be ambitious poets who are friends of the critic and poet Mr. Ransom. (Ransom examines “modern” poems by Mr. Stevens—“pure” and Mr. Tate —“obscure” in “Poets Without Laurels.”) Poe explicitly wrote on disguising one’s morals; did Poe, one of the “poets famous in our tradition” as referenced by Ransom, write only to invent “precise maxims for the moralists?” Or Baudelaire? Did Baudelaire busy himself in making “precise maxims for the moralists?” Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, Browning? Did they all throw their souls into the task of making “precise maxims for the moralists?” Really, Mr. Ransom?

We felt it was only fair to expose, for our Scarriet readers, the grubby truth underlying Ransom’s effort, which we nevertheless consider brilliant (if crooked and corrupt) in its gloss on Modernism. Again, to pick up Ransom where he left us:

So I shall try a preliminary definition of the poet’s traditional function on behalf of society: he proposed to make virtue delicious. He compounded a moral effect with an aesthetic effect. The total effect was not a pure one, but it was rich, and relished highly. The name of the moral effect was goodness; the name of the aesthetic effect was beauty. Perhaps these did not have to coexist, but the planners of society saw to it that they should; they called upon the artists to reinforce morality with charm. The artists obliged.

Note how Ransom slyly implies the “planners of society” are telling Shakespeare and Poe what to do. But no one would call the New Critics, who worked with the U.S. Government as Education officials (poetry textbook writers) or Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot, or any of the “moderns,” those laurel-less renegades, “planners of society.” Ransom, the non-planner, continues:

When they had done so , the public did not think of attempting to distinguish in its experience as reader the glow which was aesthetic from the glow which was moral. Most persons probably could not have done this; many persons cannot do it today. There is yet no general recognition of the possibility that an aesthetic effect may exist by itself, independent of morality or any other useful set of ideas. But the modern poet is intensely concerned with this possibility, and he has disclaimed social responsibility in order to secure this pure aesthetic effect. He cares nothing, professionally, about morals, or God, or native land. He has performed a work of dissociation and purified his art.

There are distinct styles of “modernity,” but I think their net results, psychologically, are about the same. I have in mind what might be called the “pure” style and what might be called the “obscure” style.

A good “pure” poem is Wallace Stevens’ “Sea Surface Full of Clouds…”

Poetry of this sort, as it was practiced by some French poets of the nineteenth century, and as it is practiced by many British and American poets now, has been called pure poetry, and the name is accurate. It is nothing but poetry; it is poetry for poetry’s sake, and you cannot get a moral out of it. But it was expected it would never win the public at large. …

As an example of “obscure” poetry, I cite Allen Tate’s “Death of Little Boys.” …

Tate has an important subject, and his poem is a human document, with a contagious fury about it: Stevens, pursuing purity, does not care to risk such a subject. But Tate, as if conscious that he is close to moralizing and sententiousness, builds up deliberately, I imagine, an effect of obscurity; for example, he does not care to explain the private meaning of his windowpane and his Norwegian cliff; or else, by some feat, he permits these bright features to belong to his total image without permitting them to reveal any precise meaning, either for himself or for his reader. …

Pure or obscure, the modern poet manages not to slip into the old-fashioned moral-beautiful compound. …

Personally, I prefer the rich obscure poetry to the thin pure poetry. The deaths of little boys are more exciting than the sea surfaces. It may be that the public preference, however, is otherwise. The public is inclined simply to ignore the pure poetry, because it lacks practical usefulness; but, to hate the obscure poetry, because it looks important enough to attend to, and yet never yields up any specific fruit. Society, through its spokesmen the dozens of social-minded critics, who talk about the necessity of “communication,” is now raging with indignation, or it may be with scorn, against the obscure poetry which this particular generation of poets has deposited. Nevertheless, both types of poetry, obscure as well as pure, aim at poetic autonomy; that is, speaking roughly, at purity.

Modern poetry in this respect is like modern painting. European painting used to be nearly as social thing as poetry. It illustrated the sacred themes prescribed by the priests, whether popularly (Raphael) or esoterically and symbolically (Michelangelo)… But more or less suddenly it asserted its independence. So we find Cezanne, painting so many times and so lovingly his foolish little bowl of fruits. …

Apostate, illaureate, and doomed to outlawry the modern poet may be. I have the feeling that modernism is an unfortunate road for them to have taken. But it was an inevitable one. …

Poets have had to become modern because the age is modern. Its modernism envelops them like a sea, or an air. Nothing in their thought can escape it.

Modern poetry is pure poetry. The motive behind it cannot be substantially different from the motive behind the other modern activities, which is certainly the driving force of all our modernism. What is its name? “Purism” would be exact, except  that it does not have the zealous and contriving sound we want. “Puritanism” will describe this motive…

The development of modern civilization has been a grand progression in which Puritanism has invaded first one field and then another.

The first field was perhaps religion. The religious impulse used to join to itself and dominate and hold together nearly all the fields of human experience; politics, science, art, and even industry, and by all means moral conduct. But Puritanism came in the form of the Protestant Reformation and separated religion from all its partners. Perhaps the most important of these separations was that which lopped off from religion the aesthetic properties…the ceremonial became idolatry. …

Next, or perhaps at the same time, Puritanism applied itself to morality. Broad as the reach of morality may be, it is distinct enough as an experience to be capable of purification. We may say that its destiny was to become what we know as sociology, a body of positivistic science. …

Then Puritanism worked upon politics. … Progress in this direction meant constitutionalism, parliamentarianism, republicanism. The population, not being composed exclusively of politicians, is inclined to delegate statecraft to those who profess it. …

It was but one step that Puritanism had to go from there into the world of business, where the material sciences are systematically applied. The rise of the modern business world is a development attendant upon the freedom which it has enjoyed; upon business for business’s sake, or pure business, or “laissez faire,” with such unconditioned principles as efficiency, technological improvement, and maximum productivity. …

All these exclusions and specializations, and many more, have been making modern life what it is. …

Poets are now under the influence of a perfectly arbitrary theory which I have called Puritanism. They pursue A, an aesthetic element thought always to have the same taste and to be the one thing desirable for poets. They will not permit the presence near it of M, the moral element, because that will produce the lemonade MA, and they do not approve of lemonade. In lemonade the A gets weakened and neutralized by the M. …

Now some poetry, so-called, is not even lemonade, for the ingredients have not been mixed, much less compounded. Lumps of morality and image lie side by side, and are tasted in succession. T.S. Eliot thinks that this has been the character of a great deal of English poetry since the age of Dryden. … It is decidedly one of the causes of that revulsion of feeling on the part of the modern poet which drives him away from the poetic tradition.

And that is Ransom’s Modernist gambit, justifying Modern Poetry’s “independence” from “morality” on the historical “fact” that modern life is now more “pure” than ancient life. But does Ransom’s analogy work? Is a lobbyist-influenced politician in a modern democratic society more “pure” than a Feudal lord, or king? Is the poetry of Allen Tate more “pure” than Shelley’s? Is efficiency and improvement and productivity in a specific area something which only arose in France in the 19th Century? Was it Modern Poetry’s destiny to gain a certain ascendency in the 20th century for the very same reason that drove Martin Luther to question the sincerity of the Catholic Church?

We think not. We strongly suspect that “Modernism” is nothing but a fancy word, and that John Crowe Ransom and T.S. Eliot are nothing but Highbrow Car Salesmen. Purely so, of course.

WINNER: BAUDELAIRE

 

 

 

 

COLERIDGE AND SHELLEY BATTLE FOR ELITE EIGHT SPOT!

Coleridge. Not a happy life. But a happy mind.

William Wordsworth is not a Romantic Poet. In his heart, Wordsworth is a Park Ranger. At least compared to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge can make even Shelley look like a cold philosopher.  A Wild and Desperate Love is at the heart of Coleridge’s Romanticism. Wordsworth trusts in Nature’s God, Shelley in the One, but Coleridge, the Heart-Riven Atheist, trembles before the Unknown:

Reality’s Dark Dream

I know ’tis but a dream, yet feel more anguish
Than if it were ’twere truth. It has been often so:
Must I die under it? Is no one near?
Will no one hear these stifled groans and wake me?

It is not that Coleridge was simply a World of Hurt; he was a thinking man, and always reflecting; Coleridge, the Poet, is Pain Spoiled by Too Much Thought. The “I know ’tis but a dream” above only manages to deepen the gruesome “reality.” Coleridge knows the darkness and escapes the darkness with thought in such a way that manages in its workings to bring more darkness on. And since Coleridge is a genius, the fault seems never to be Coleridge’s but the world’s, the bad luck of a great man proving to be more melancholy than any human flaw or philosophical belief.

Coleridge is the Hamlet of Hamlets, the “sole unbusy thing:”

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

from “Work Without Hope”

As for love, as the quintessential Romantic Poet, Coleridge believes it to be all. From the poem, “Love:”

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love
And feed his sacred Flame.

“Sacred.” Of course. The orgy of the Romantic is always sacred, and this paradox is at the heart of that type of poetry’s beauty and wonder; to feel the sternly Modernist tainted and cynical profanation of Romanticism is to know truly what Romanticism is.

To be Romantic is to adore the Past in such a manner that one can, like Coleridge, reproduce Homer’s hexameter, but tragically, only in moments:

Strongly it bears us along in swelling and limitless billows,
Nothing before and nothing behind but the sky and the ocean.

The Romantic cannot be Classically heroic; the sad attempts break apart into the fragments of dream, and in the failure, a rich lyric beauty is born, as if the body of a strong animal were tenderized, cooked, and eaten. Appetite is born of ruin. Modernism, the mere cold leftovers of the sacred feast.

Coleridge was more optimistic when he was younger: he was capable, for instance, of this simple, stunning observation, as he writes of his infant son in “Frost at Midnight:”

But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! He shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

There you have it: Coleridge, bursting with faith and paternal care, with the magnificent ” by giving make it ask.”

In one of those strange accidents of history, Coleridge was friends with the steadier but less talented Wordsworth—calling him in “To William Wordsworth,” “Friend of the Wise! and Teacher of the Good!” Although Byron, Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge, compared to Mr. W., had superior minds, tougher hearts, were better verse writers, and were more in the spirit of Romanticism, the contrast of the hard-luck and dissipated Coleridge, and the early deaths of the other three, came to make Wordsworth seem, in the eyes of certain dull but well appointed critics (Matthew Arnold was one) the greater poet, and this peculiar state of things still exists today. Wordsworth’s best known poem, “Tintern Abbey,” is not even read correctly (the famous theme of the lost joys of childhood is nowhere in the poem. *Scarriet has written on this elsewhere)

The cold-hearted Modern, T.S. Eliot, he of the icicle breath, the various Orthodox trappings, strangely mixed with ingenious vulgarity and wise-acre irreverence, cut down the Romantics and elevated Donne and the Metaphysical School—(the term “metaphysical school” is actually Samuel Johnson’s.) The Romantics will have their revenge, sooner or later, and Coleridge will smite Donne. Speaking of which, here is Coleridge on Donne:

With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots;
Rhyme’s sturdy cripple, fancy’s maze and clue,
Wit’s forge and fire-blast, meaning’s press and screw.

Here, Coleridge, the Romantic, has dashed off what dances with Donne and Eliot, and looks ahead to Plath.

Shelley was simply the most optimistic poet who ever lived:

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn:
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wreaks of a dissolving dream.
A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
From waves serener far;
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
Against the morning star.
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.
A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
Fraught with a later prize;
Another Orpheus sings again,
And loves, and weeps, and dies.
A new Ulysses leaves once more
Calypso for his native shore.
Oh write no more the tale of Troy,
If earth Death’s scroll must be!
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
Which dawns upon the free:
Although a subtler Sphinx renew
Riddles of death Thebes never knew.
Another Athens shall arise
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendor of its prime;
And leave, if nought so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven give.
Saturn and Love their long repose
Shall burst, more bright and good
Than all who fell, than One who rose,
Than many unsubdued:
Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
But votive tears and symbol flowers.
Oh, cease! Must hate and death return?
Cease! must men kill and die?
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
Of bitter prophecy.
The world is weary of the past,
Oh, might it die or rest at last!

Shelley is almost too correct in his feelings of triumph, in his magnificent versification. We feel more sympathetic for the homely heart and playful mind of Coleridge today.

WINNER: COLERIDGE

Samuel Taylor Coleridge advances to the Elite Eight!!!

DANTE AND POPE BATTLE FOR CLASSICAL BRACKET FINAL

All poets are beautiful.  Is Alexander Pope not beautiful?

POPE:

It would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly passed on poems. A critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error?

This seems strange: Pope, author of “The Confederacy of Dunces,” himself a poet best known for using his poetry to criticize and excoriate lesser poets, who took sweet delight in crushing denser wits with his superior wit, in this piece of prose, defends poets against harsh criticism. What? Was Pope really soft? In any case, no Critics from the 18th century are even known today, even as one as mighty as Pope seems to fear them. The critics are all forgotten.

But Pope was prophetic: civilization means that poetry is not only read, it is discussed and criticized: but finally the poets prove too thin-skinned, and resolve “not to own themselves in any error,” which is precisely what happened with modern poetry: its desultory prose style simply cannot be measured as faulty; the loose address of an Ashbery is simply beyond criticism. So is every one happy? Would Pope, who rhymes, be?

Next, Pope puts his finger on another modern ailment: poetry is essentially trivial:

I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-placed; poetry and criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.

Finally, Pope makes further modern remarks regarding the poet in society—the genius does not appear out of the blue; they must grow up to an audience; but how? Most likely even the genius—in the early stages of their career, especially—will be shot down, envied, and hated. Is Pope merely feeling sorry for himself? Critical reception is made of flawed and envious humans, and the best thing the genius can hope for is “self-amusement.” So we are back to “idle men in closets.” We are surprised to find Pope, in his prose, to be self-pitying, sensitive, and quaintly tragic. Pope was the first Romantic. He was Byron’s favorite poet, after all.

What we call a genius, is hard to be distinguished by a man himself—if his genius be ever so great, he cannot discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has is appealing to the judgments of others. The reputation of a writer generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.  A good poet no sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with fear of being ridiculous. If praise be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine genius as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it: and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so good, as ill-will does him harm. The largest part of mankind, of ordinary or indifferent capacities, will hate, or suspect him. Whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are some advantages accruing from a genius to poetry: the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone, the privilege of being admitted into the best company…

DANTE:

The author of the Comedia, here in a prose section of his earlier, Beatrice-besotted Vita Nuova, speaks of several apparently unrelated things at once: the poet describing love as if it were a person, the use of high and low speech as it relates to rhyme and love, and how these uses should be understood in a prose manner.

Dante quotes examples in classical poetry (mostly figures of speech) to defend his own practice in his “little book” (the Vita Nuova) of personifying love.

The dramatizing license is all well and good, but Dante also makes the fascinating point that poets began to write in the common tongue (as opposed to literary Latin) in wooing (less educated) females, and that rhyme is best used for love. How does one get one’s head around this radical, grounded, democratic, proto-Romantic notion?

For Dante, poetry and love overlap in a corporeal manner in three ways: personification, rhyme, and wooing, the first belonging to rhetoric, the second, to music, and the third, practical romance. The whole thing is delightfully religious in a mysterious, trinitarian sort of way: Personified love, Christ, the son; Rhyme, the Holy Spirit; and Wooing, the Creative Love of God. Or, on a more pagan religious level, personified love can be any messenger; rhyme, the trappings of religion’s austere/populist articulation; and wooing, the conversion of the poor.

It might be that a person might object, one worthy of raising an objection, and their objection might be this, that I speak of Love as though it were a thing in itself, and not only an intelligent subject, but a bodily substance: which, demonstrably, is false: since Love is not in itself a substance, but an accident of substance.

And that I speak of him as if he were corporeal, moreover as though he were a man, is apparent from these three things I say of him. I say that I saw him approaching: and since to approach implies local movement, and local movement per se, following the Philosopher, exists only in a body, it is apparent that I make Love corporeal.

I also say of him that he smiles, and that he speaks: things which properly belong to man, and especially laughter: and therefore it is apparent that I make him human. To make this clear, in a way that is good for the present matter, it should first be understood that in ancient times there was no poetry of Love in the common tongue, but there was Love poetry by certain poets in the Latin tongue: amongst us, I say, and perhaps it happened amongst other peoples, and still happens, as in Greece, only literary, not vernacular poets treated of these things.

Not many years have passed since the first of these vernacular poets appeared: since to speak in rhyme in the common tongue is much the same as to speak in Latin verse, paying due regard to metre. And a sign that it is only a short time is that, if we choose to search in the language of oc [vulgar Latin S. France] and that of si, [vulgar Latin Italy] we will not find anything earlier than a hundred and fifty years ago.

And the reason why several crude rhymesters were famous for knowing how to write is that they were almost the first to write in the language of si. And the first who began to write as a poet of the common tongue was moved to do so because he wished to make his words understandable by a lady to whom verse in Latin was hard to understand. And this argues against those who rhyme on other matters than love, because it is a fact that this mode of speaking was first invented in order to speak of love.

From this it follows that since greater license is given to poets than prose writers, and since those who speak in rhyme are no other than the vernacular poets, it is apt and reasonable that greater license should be granted to them to speak than to other speakers in the common tongue: so that if any figure of speech or rhetorical flourish is conceded to the poets, it is conceded to the rhymesters. So if we see that the poets have spoken of inanimate things as if they had sense and reason, and made them talk to each other, and not just with real but with imaginary things, having things which do not exist speak, and many accidental things speak, as if they were substantial and human, it is fitting for writers of rhymes to do the same, but not without reason, and with a reason that can later be shown in prose.

That the poets have spoken like this is can be evidenced by Virgil, who says that Juno, who was an enemy of the Trojans, spoke to Aeolus, god of the winds, in the first book of the Aeneid: ‘Aeole, namque tibi: Aeolus, it was you’, and that the god replied to her with: Tuus, o regina, quid optes, explorare labor: mihi jussa capessere fas est: It is for you, o queen, to decide what our labours are to achieve: it is my duty to carry out your orders’. In the same poet he makes an inanimate thing (Apollo’s oracle) talk with animate things, in the third book of the Aeneid, with: ‘Dardanidae duri: You rough Trojans’.

In Lucan an animate thing talks with an inanimate thing, with: ‘Multum. Roma, tamen debes civilibus armis: Rome, you have greatly benefited from the civil wars.’

In Horace a man speaks to his own learning as if to another person: and not only are they Horace’s words, but he gives them as if quoting the style of goodly Homer, in his Poetics saying: ‘Dic mihi, Musa, virum: Tell me, Muse, about the man.’

In Ovid, Love speaks as if it were a person, at the start of his book titled De Remediis Amoris: Of the Remedies for Love, where he says: ‘Bella mihi, video, bella parantur, ait: Some fine things I see, some fine things are being prepared, he said.’

These examples should serve to as explanation to anyone who has objections concerning any part of my little book. And in case any ignorant person should assume too much, I will add that the poets did not write in this mode without good reason, nor should those who compose in rhyme, if they cannot justify what they are saying, since it would be shameful if someone composing in rhyme put in a figure of speech or a rhetorical flourish, and then, being asked, could not rid his words of such ornamentation so as to show the true meaning. My best friend and I know many who compose rhymes in this foolish manner.

 

Pope, the great poet, already, in the 18th century, as a philosopher, has that Modernist smell of trivializing apology about him. Not so Dante, who is an ardent, mysterious flame burning on the candle of the Muse.

WINNER: DANTE

Dante will face Plato in the Classical Final for a spot in the Final Four!

POE AND WORDSWORTH IN ELITE EIGHT ROMANTIC BRACKET BATTLE!

Wordsworth, who recently defeated Marx, contemplates advancing past Poe to reach the Elite Eight

If one reads Scarriet one is not under the usual illusions about Edgar Poe; one understands he was a thousand times more than the “macabre” writer as perceived by those who have been sadly deluded, and we include here the editors of The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books and the various busybodies of the ‘book world’ who are clueless in the typical snobbish manner of the helpless bookworm.

It is important that art does not get reduced to content; art’s medium is not simply a blind receptacle for politically-approved, fashionable rhetoric—the sort of ‘meaning’ which the dense and unphilosophical type is always searching for in order to have their uninspired world view confirmed.

The ‘medium is the message’ is not the point either; it is precisely the duality of medium and message, the way they interact, which is crucial.

Poe, by inventing genres, by being a master and inventor of so many mediums, is the most important literary figure America has produced. The rest is mostly content or ‘stream-of-consciousness’ fiction: the South as presented by Faulkner, the Cubist reality of Joyce, the junkyard collage of Pound, with the whole Modernist project the same: foster illusion by dismantling the medium. The illusion, or the fiction, in the common parlance, is the autobiographical content in which the writer’s guts unspool, as it were, and the Fiction Writing instructor urges the color of ephemeral detail fill up every line in the “realist” project.

The paradox of Fiction striving, at all costs, to be realistic, to break the rules of form in such a way that content (data, info, ‘what is said’) is all, so that the medium disappears in the sprawl of what is communicated—this paradox of The Attempt To Be Real dressing itself up and calling itself Fiction (or Poetry) seems to be lost on many, who don’t see it as a paradox at all. But it certainly is.

Defenders of paradoxical ‘Real Fiction’ may reply: the Real is paradoxical, the Real is always an attempt, and not realized, and Fiction just happens to be one flexible and very important way to reproduce or experience the Real.

This response will satisfy some, but we object to it for the following reason: the Real is always an attempt, true, but this defines Fiction as failure—either it reflects our failure to know Reality or it reflects Reality the Unknowable. In either case, such a project is bound to be haphazard. The Socratic admonition to know what we don’t know is not the same thing as celebrating ignorance, or not knowing. The medium is something we can know, and for this reason alone, it deserves our attention; if proportion and pleasure belong anywhere, they belong to the way the medium captures reality, for this is what art, by definition, is; this is all we mean when we refer to form—form, or, more accurately, the form in space and time—the form of form—which is what we as artists know; otherwise we have no way of distinguishing reality from art, and reality trumps all understanding and becomes experience—the kind of experience which is experienced, and for that reason has no public or social existence, no art. Without the medium, there is no science. The painter begins with a rectangle laid against reality, and through this “window” discovers what can be scientifically known—the artist becoming an artist only insofar as he is a scientist.

Back to Poe, America’s Daedalus. Poe was scientific, not fictional. Detective fiction is a template, and not in the least concerned with persons and cultures. The writing of the populist poem, “The Raven,” with every formal aspect contributing to a unified effect as of a framed painting, with the accompanying essay, “The Philosophy of Composition,” was like the work of a Renaissance Master in the studio. The science of perspective was behind the advances of Renaissance painting; these profound advances occurred precisely because the artist made this question paramount: how is reality to be portrayed in my painting? For when the artist wrestles with perspective, with how every part of the painting is viewed in space and time by the human eye in time and space (when the viewer ‘walks by’ a portrait, do the painting’s “eyes” follow, etc) measurement comes to the rescue of mere seeing.

Art which abandons perspective destroys art’s scientific medium and gives it over to that realm of imitation in which the viewer is charmed by mere colors. Do the colors charm the viewer “in reality?” Yes—and no. Do we “see” the moon as larger than it normally appears—when the moon is near the horizon, with objects that are closer—“in reality?” Yes. But here we see what Plato and the Renaissance painter were onto, in becoming self-conscious of imitation and human weakness and measurement: the issue, if looked at in the right way, is not  about being anti-art, at all, but rather it is about creating, or exploring, standards (based on science) for great art.

The rediscovery of Plato fueled the Renaissance. Here is Plato (Book X, The Republic):

Has not imitation been shown by us to be concerned with that which is thrice removed from the truth?

Certainly.

And what is the faculty in man to which imitation is addressed?

What do you mean?

I will explain: The body which is large when seen near, appears small when seen at a distance?

True.

And if the same object appears straight when looked at out of the water, and crooked when in the water, and the concave becomes convex, owing to the illusion about colors to which the sight is liable. Thus every sort of confusion is revealed within us; and this is that weakness of the human mind on which the act of conjuring and of deceiving by light and shadow and other ingenious devices imposes, having an effect upon us like magic.

True.

And the arts of measuring and numbering and weighing come to the rescue of the human understanding—there is the beauty of them—and the apparent greater or less, or more or heavier, no longer have the mastery over us, but give way before calculation and measure and weight?

Most true.

And this, surely, must be the work of the calculating and rationale principle in the soul?

Plato is not saying to ignore or eliminate human weakness with its merely imitative propensities; Plato only asks that we become aware of error as we make art; it is the triumph of Platonism to bring about this self-consciousness in the artist; Plato’s condemnation of imitative projects, in which the medium is played down or ignored, is only one superficial aspect of Plato the Republic-builder’s intent. And why is the medium, as medium, so important? Because the medium is precisely that measuring vessel which brings us closer to reality as we make art with the medium as our guide (not as an end). This is true for perspective in “illusionistic” painting as it is true for formalism in “idealistic” poetry, aspects which Modernism and its obsession with trashy/fragmented reality has intentionally destroyed, as it seeks to define ‘the medium’ as something artificial, which interferes with reality and needs eventually to be sloughed off, like a Futurist snake shedding its ancient skin. But how deluded! And here we see the error of modern art in a nutshell.

“Artistic illusion” is when the medium is dismantled and disappears; the illusion becomes, in fact, delusion, as when we think a painting is “real.”

Perspective in painting is not simply an imitation of perspective in life—it is an investigation of the visual system itself, which includes both the perceptive mechanism of the individual viewer and geometric or mathematical truth, which, together, navigates and attempts to know higher reality within various contexts.

Let us quote from Michael Kubovy’s The Psychology of Perspective and Renaissance Art:

I do not think there ever is “false belief or conception” when we look at a work of art. Arthur C. Danto’s discussion of illusion (in the sense of false belief or conception) shows clearly why we should hold this view:

“If illusion is to occur, the viewer cannot be conscious of any properties that really belong to the medium, for to the degree that we perceive that it is a medium, illusion is effectively aborted. So the medium must, as it were, be invisible, and this requirement is perfectly symbolized by the plate of glass which is presumed transparent, something we cannot see but only see through (as consciousness is transparent in the sense that we are not conscious of it but only of its objects)…So conceived, it is the aim of imitation to conceal from the viewer the fact that it is an imitation, which is conspicuously at odds with Aristotle’s thought that the knowledge of imitation accounts for its pleasure. In Plato’s it evidently did, and it is this form of the theory I am working with now. Taken as a theory of art, what imitation theory amounts to is a reduction of the artwork to its content, everything else being supposedly invisible—or if visible, then an excrescence, to be overcome by further illusionistic technology.”

Art can be pro-Medium or anti-Medium; the Medium can be seen as a glory, or at least as a necessity, as it was for the Renaissance painter exploring perspective, as it was for Plato, in which the Medium equalled “measurement” which comes to the “rescue” of blind imitation, as it was for Shelley, who said the poet would be a fool not to use rhyme, and as it was for Poe, a Medium-based writer if there ever was one, frustrating the typical reader of autobiographical content. An important point here: the glory of the Medium is not something “artificial,” even as it escapes the “ephemeral fact” in the “scientific-how-to” of its Medium-ness. The rectangular window of the Renaissance painter pictures reality not artificially, so much as naturally and scientifically. Rhyme and meter belong to science; they are not artificialities getting  in the way of reality, so much as a concession to how vast and unknowable reality qua reality is, making measurement and limit necessary, not only for art, but for knowing reality at all. And further, the Medium works with Content; the Medium does not simply exist statically by itself.

And then we have the anti-Medium school, which really does believe in a Reality better known without the nuisance of the bullying, “old-fashioned” limitations of the Medium. This includes, really, the entire Modernist project of the last 200 years, which attempts to either fight free of the Medium’s limitations, or hold it up as a joke or a gimmick.

So here we are: Wordsworth is an early Modernist who is best known—even as he worked brilliantly in poetic forms—for praising poems which imitated the “real speech of real men:” the implication of this revolutionary project is that reality—the real speech of real men— can be conveyed “without poetry, or that cumbersome Medium known as “Verse,” which, the Reality-loving Modernist is quick to point out, is “artificial,” just as Renaissance perspective is “artificial.” To the Modernist, all art is “artificial,” and the quicker we get rid of this diversion, the better. We have already pointed out how wrong-headed this is; but we should point out here that indeed, if the Medium is too removed from Reality, if it is badly or ineptly wrought, then, yes, it will be artificial and inept, in the very sense of the Modernist critique. But the Modernist threw out the baby with the bath water. For the Modernist, the Medium itself, no matter how excellent, became a nuisance and an enemy.

Perhaps we are being unfair to Wordsworth; since he did work in the medium of poetic formalism, what he meant perhaps, with his explicit talk of the “the speech of real men” was only his way of saying that his medium was a vehicle for the real, and not a medium, only. Just as Plato called measure beautiful, Wordsworth, in the same vein, was insightful enough to intuit plain speech as poetry. But not so. Art either stoops or elevates. It either pretends to give us reality-without-medium or acknowledges that art is reality-through-medium. The gods of Keats are more artistically profound than the beggars of Wordsworth, or, more importantly, Keats’s gods are not further from reality than Wordsworth’s beggars, and are closer to reality, if Keats uses the Medium of Verse better. No one can claim an over-arching reality which is superior to medium and form. Ever.

Poe laughed at Wordsworth’s apology for his own poetry’s “awkwardness” in W.’s “Introduction to Lyrical Ballads;” the medium of music was necessary for poetry’s enjoyment, Poe felt, and in his little essay, “Letter to B.,” Poe quotes some awkward lines of pure doggerel from Wordsworth for the purpose of ridicule, and refers to the “doctrine” of the “Lake School” as overly “metaphysical.” By contrast, Poe had nothing but good things to say of Keats’ poetry. Pleasure. Idealism. Medium. Music. These are mandatory for the poet. If one wishes to be “wise” or “political” or “realistic” or “informative,” let the author use prose. This advice could not be more simple. Which is why, perhaps, the educated today ignore it.

WINNER:POE

 

 

 

THE ROAD TO CRITICISM’S FINAL FOUR

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Two more wins.  That’s all Harold Bloom or Edmund Wilson needs.  As the fate of the other philosophers in the Classical, Romantic and Modern brackets smashes on the rocks of wit and time, in the Post-Modern Bracket, Harold Bloom and Edmund Wilson prepare to advance to the cherished spot atop the Critical Parnassus.

What claims do these two professors have on us? Both are classic ‘old white guys’ defending a Canon of old white guy literature, if we might be crude and blunt about it. They are both ‘conservative’ in the way all English professors are generally conservative—and when they are not, students think “cool.” Bloom and Wilson are not cool. They both embody, “Hey kids! Get off my lawn!”

Were the giants of canonical literature ever cool? Or whatever is cool not canonical? Do we have two choices: the Great or the cool?

Yup, that’s it. And sometimes the cool is great (a great jazz musician) and the great is cool (Byron’s jokes, Homer’s mayhem).

The present is a tiny window. Those who study history belong to a much larger window, but the problem is: how do you fit the larger window into the smaller one? Sure, the brain can hold a lot of information, but the brain quickly forgets a lot of information, too; education for the sake of education tends to be a useless exercise of ‘info in, info out.’

Let’s say we feed the brain with ‘Homer to the Present’; how do we stop it from all just leaking out? Never mind those not interested in learning literature at all; even the earnest, the curious, the devoted may forget tomorrow what they learn today, especially if what they learn is just a massive pile of facts. What we need is a thread of learning, a kind of meaningful theology or creed which holds the facts in place and transforms them into a second language. The first language, our native tongue which we share with our peers, enables us to communicate with each other; few forget the first language, and even without formal literary study, many become quite adept at this first language, and use it to do all kinds of amazing things–after all, language itself, literary or not, is amazing. Who needs that second language, then? What is it?

Selection is the key term; literature is nothing more than the history of language, and selecting for the smaller window of the present from the larger window of the past is what it’s all about. The whole thing is quite simple. The critic, the professor, in this case Bloom and Wilson, succeed or fail in how well they select. In fact, we who use the first language (the language we all speak and share in order to communicate) succeed in the same way, pulling in from ‘our second language’ all which makes how we communicate in the first language interesting, drawing from the larger into the smaller, so that we are more than just a speaker of a language, more than the sum of our (speaking) parts.

This second language is like our soul which inhabits the first language (our body). Everyone has a body; the body is a common thing, but it is ultimately how we ‘do’ things, just as it is with this first language that we always speak, even as those rich in a ‘second’ language pour their second language into the first.

Speech that is very refined—and some would say ‘uncool’ and pretentious—is the Second Language glimpsed in its exposed existence as a Second Language: this, for some, is what Literature is. The simple act of emoting or singing might bring about this effect: the soul is ‘speaking!’ But if someone cannot sing, and if the emoting fails to move or amuse, we immediately sense that here no soul exists; the attempt was made to draw on the Second Language but apparently the person has no Second language, even as they may be perfectly adequate in expressing themselves with their First Language. We say they have no poetry, no drama, no flair; and if they persist in singing and emoting poorly, we call them a fool; and if they stick to their first language, we are satisfied, and finally judge them as not being a dramatic type; we would not go so far as to condemn them as really having no soul, however, even if perhaps we might find ourselves whispering behind their backs that they are a little dull.

We notice several things here. 1) The second language can disappear into the first; both are languages; 2) the second language can be seen in its naked state as something distinct from the first language—and here 3) it is immediately judged as something that annoys or amuses.

The whole of the Literary Canon, then, including the contemporary poet uttering their poem today, hoping to have an impact now, is subject to our judgment: does this amuse or annoy? We cannot escape this judgment, no more than we can taste food without subjecting ourselves to its tastiness or lack thereof.

The first language cannot, and is not, judged in this way: it merely tells us something; the first language is like the food’s nutrition; it is below the radar of our taste and conscious judgment. Learning the first language in our earliest days, we taste it not; we are fed it without being conscious of pleasure or annoy—the act of communication—putting pieces together to communicate—is all. But what is really happening at this stage is that we ourselves in our pre-literate animal state are the real first language, and what we have been calling the ‘first language’ is our ‘Second Language’ until gradually the real Second Language (the literary history and soul of the human race) falls upon us with its shadow, brightening our first two languages.

We become mature speakers when we can ‘taste’ nutrition; instead of merely being attracted to sugar and sweet taste, our taste and the good (what is good for us) coincide. Some, the non-literate, the soul-less, are forever split: they like what is sweet and bad for them and they  hate what has no sweet taste but is good for them. They are like children always annoyed by learning. Life has taken pity on them; they have learned their first language and forever benefit from it; and having a First Language guarantees the Second Language may visit them and carry them along with its pull.

The Second Language is the Good disguised as something Sweet; it is the large converting itself to the small so that the pitifully narrow present might be guided by the vast truth of the past. Again, selection is all; the sweet which can best cover the good is selected; the good is selected, the sweet which is sweet, but not too sweet, is selected; every necessary combination is selected, and then all those selections are selected. The poet selects an audience, selects selections for that audience; the audience selects from poetic selections, the critic selects from poetic selections and audience selections alike.

The critic—Bloom and Wilson—use the first language to describe the second language; both their first language and the first language of others, to judge the second.

The second language, literature, what we have called the history of language, is judged precisely as that, with a language which is purely useful and not itself up for judgment. Critics are those who wish to judge, and not be judged. They wish to admire, not be admired. They wish to teach, not be taught. They wish to select from the larger and convert it to the smaller; this is what they in fact must do.

Let us turn to Wilson, the conservative critic, doing exactly this.

Observe how he crushes the pretense of Valery:

It seems to me that a pretense to exactitude is here used to cover a number of ridiculously false assumptions, and to promote a kind of aesthetic mysticism rather than to effect a scientific analysis. In the first place, is it not absurd to assert that prose deals exclusively in “sense” as distinguished from suggestion, and that one has no right to expect from poetry, as Valery says in another passage, “any definite notion at all”? Is verse really an intellectual product absolutely different in kind from prose?  Has it really an absolutely different function? Are not both prose and verse, after all merely techniques of human intercommunication, and techniques which have played various roles, have been used for various purposes, in different periods and civilizations? The early Greeks used verse for histories, their romances and their laws—the Greeks and the Elizabethans used it for their dramas. If Valery’s definitions are correct, what becomes of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe? They all of them deal in sense as well as suggestion and aim to convey “definite notions.” These definitions have, however, obviously been framed to apply to the poetry of Valery himself and of Mallarme and the other Symbolists. Yet it does not really apply to even them. As we have seen, Valery’s poetry does make sense, it does deal with definite subjects, it does transmit to us “something intelligible that is going on inside his mind.” Even though in calling his book of poems “Charmes,” he has tried to emphasize its esoteric, magical, non-utilitarian character, we cannot admit that it is anything but an effort like another of articulate human speech. What happens when we communicate with each other, in literature as well as in curses and cries for help, and in verse as well as prose—what part is played by suggestion, and whether sense and suggestion are different and separable—are questions which take us far and deep: I shall return to them in a later chapter. But Valery has already let us see—it is even one of his favorite ideas—that he understands the basic similarity between the various forms of intellectual activity; he has taken pride in pointing out the kinship between poetry and mathematics. And if the function and methods of poetry are similar to those of mathematics, they must surely be similar to those of prose. If Valery resembles Descartes, as he seems willing to indulge himself in imagining, then it is impossible to make a true distinction between the philosophical or mathematical treatise and however Symbolistic a poem. Valery betrays himself here, it seems to me, as a thinker anything but “rigorous;” and he betrays also, I believe, a desire, defensive no doubt at the same time as snobbish, to make it appear that verse, a technique now no longer much used for history, story-telling or drama and consequently not much in popular demand, has some inherent superiority to prose. He has not hesitated even to assure us elsewhere that “poetry is the most difficult of the arts!”

Now Wilson on T.S. Eliot from the same work, Axel’s Castle:

It will be seen that Eliot differs from Valery in believing that poetry should make “sense.” And he elsewhere, in his essay on Dante in “The Sacred Wood,” remonstrates with Valery for asserting that philosophy has no place in poetry. Yet Eliot’s point of view, though more intelligently reasoned and expressed, comes down finally to the same sort of thing as Valery’s and seems to me open to the same sort of objection. Eliot’s conclusion in respect to the relation of philosophy to poetry is that, though philosophy has its place in poetry, it is only as something which we “see” among the other things with which the poet presents us, a set of ideas which penetrate his world, as in the case of the “Divina Commedia:” in the case of such a poet as Lucretius, the philosophy sometimes seems antagonistic to the poetry only because it happens to be a philosophy “not rich enough in feeling…incapable of complete expansion into pure vision.” Furthermore, “the original form of philosophy cannot be poetic”: the poet must use a philosophy already invented by somebody else. Now, though we admire the justice of Eliot’s judgments on the various degrees of artistic success achieved by Dante, Lucretius and others, it becomes plainer and plainer, as time goes on, that the real effect of Eliot’s, as of Valery’s, literary criticism, is to impose upon us a conception of poetry as some sort of pure and rare aesthetic essence with no relation to any of the practical human uses for which, for some reason never explained, only the technique of prose is appropriate.

Now this point of view, as I have already suggested in writing about Paul Valery, seems to me absolutely unhistorical…

Edmund Wilson, to put it simply, accuses the Modernists Valery and Eliot’s redefinition of poetry as something excessively pure, in the small window of their present day, as betraying the Second Language, the larger window of literary history which includes “Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe.” And Wilson is right. Call him “conservative,” but he actually speaks for a larger window—one that can easily fit into the smaller window of our time. Why “easily?” Precisely because of the nature of the geniuses Wilson lists: who are essential for their ability to say more with less. Eliot and Valery fret over the relationship of poetry to philosophy, worrying that the former cannot contain the latter. But as Wilson implies, this “unhistorical” position demeans poetry. Valery and Eliot might argue that verse is no longer a vehicle for prose-subjects as it once was, and the task now is to find ‘the poetry’ or the ‘poetic vision’ in writing which is neither quite verse nor quite prose, and to call this “unhistorical” is a grumpy attempt to stifle progress. But the Modernist position, which has prevailed—who reads Wilson anymore?—is abstractly and vaguely argued and has proved to be rather impotent.

Harold Bloom has spent his latter career championing Shakespeare’s dramas, and since Bloom is no poet, this activity is free of all “anxiety.”  Shakespeare invented Freudian psychology, Bloom asserts, but he never acknowledges how Plato’s dialogues influenced Shakespeare’s plays, though Bloom is full of “precursor” talk in general. Bloom favors Emerson over Poe to such an extreme degree that Bloom’s judgment cannot possibly be trusted anywhere else. Bloom believes “study” and “reading” are “holy,” and his attempt to see all of poetry as One Poem is admirable, but unfortunately with him, as with Eliot and the Modernists, this attempt is finally bookish and separated from the real world of love which lives behind the poem.

WINNER: WILSON

HERE’S THE SWEET 16 IN SCARRIET’S 2014 MARCH MADNESS POETRY PHILOSOPHER TOURNAMENT!

Johann Wenzel Peter , Fight of a lion with a tiger , 1809

Here are the Literary Critics worth reading: the Top 16 Who Have Prevailed So Far and Have Made It To the SWEET SIXTEEN!

Every year, Scarriet holds their version of March Madness, with 64 authors competing for the championship.

In 2010, the first year of the tournament, we used every Best American Poetry volume, David Lehman, editor, to determine the field.  Winner: Billy Collins

In 2011, Stephen Berg, David Bonnano, and Arthur Vogelsang’s Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review. Winner: Philip Larkin

In 2012, Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. Winner: Ben Mazer

In 2013, casting about for players, we amassed 64 Romantic poets, including modern and contemporary poets fitting the Romantic mold. Winner: Shelley

This year, Scarriet used the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, William E. Cain, Laurie A. Finke, Barbara E. Johnson, John McGowan, and Jeffrey J. Williams, which has produced a true clash of giants:

Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Sidney, Coleridge, Baudelaire, Marx, Freud, Pater, De Beauvoir, Saussure, T.S. Eliot, etc.

The earth actually shook as the combatants went toe to toe in this year’s March Madness.

The critc-philosophers who made it to the Sweet 16 are:

CLASSICAL

1. PLATO d. Sidney

2. DANTE d. Aristotle

3. POPE d. Aquinas

4. ADDISON d. Maimonides

ROMANTIC

5. WORDSWORTH d. Marx

6. COLERIDGE d. Burke

7. POE d. Peacock

8. SHELLEY d. Emerson

MODERN

9. BAUDELAIRE d. Saussure

10. FREUD d. Benjamin

11. WILDE d. Pater

12. (John Crowe) RANSOM d. T.S. Eliot

POST-MODERN

13. (Edmund) WILSON d. Northrup Frye

14. (J.L.) AUSTIN d. Cixous

15. (Edward) SAID d. De Beauvoir

16. (Harold) BLOOM d. Sartre

Scarriet would ask you not to try this at home: The winners are all white men.

We are really sorry, VIDA.  But when women—or the women presented in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism—only write on women, this narrowness itself contributes to a certain amount of self-marginalizing.

This is a universal problem: if the oppressed are thrown in an intellectual hole, how do they dig themselves out—in a truly broad intellectual fashion?

Perhaps this is why there’s a certain dislike for this kind of competition: the best rises to the top, producing an historical unfairness, given what human history has been.

We see the problem.  We make no apologies, however, for our experiment.

YEAUHHHHHH!!!! SWEET 16 IN THE POST-MODERN BRACKET!!!

Edmund Wilson, who bullied his way into the Sweet 16: Yea, I’m an asshole, what of it? he seems to be saying. In Letters, arrogance goes a long way.

EDMUND WILSON VERSUS NORTHROP FRYE

Wilson (d. 1972) was a magnificent snob, believing himself above government, morality, tact, and popular literature. He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years after World War Two and got off with a slap on the wrist. He served on the Dewey Commission in the 1930s, an elaborate effort by a few American intellectuals to clear Trotsky against the Soviet findings of the Moscow Trials. Trotsky wrote the following re: the Commission:

The Moscow trials are perpetrated under the banner of socialism. We will not concede this banner to the masters of falsehood! If our generation happens to be too weak to establish Socialism over the earth, we will hand the spotless banner down to our children. The struggle which is in the offing transcends by far the importance of individuals, factions and parties. It is the struggle for the future of all mankind. It will be severe, it will be lengthy. Whoever seeks physical comfort and spiritual calm let him step aside. In time of reaction it is more convenient to lean on the bureaucracy than on the truth. But all those for whom the word ‘Socialism’ is not a hollow sound but the content of their moral life – forward! Neither threats nor persecutions nor violations can stop us! Be it even over our bleaching bones the truth will triumph! We will blaze the trail for it. It will conquer! Under all the severe blows of fate, I shall be happy as in the best days of my youth! Because, my friends, the highest human happiness is not the exploitation of the present but the preparation of the future.

“It is the struggle for the future of all mankind. It will be a severe, it will be lengthy. Whoever seeks physical comfort and spiritual calm let him step aside.”

These are indeed fighting words. “Give up physical comfort” to spread Socialism over the face of the earth. “It will conquer!” Etc. Here’s the world which Wilson, Princeton man, snobby blue blood and literary critic, swore by and lived in. One can say, “despite his pedigree, Wilson was fighting for the salt of the earth,” or, Wilson was a dangerous political lunatic, who thanks to his pedigree, was able to do as he pleased.” Take your pick.

Wilson dismissed J. R. Tolkien as “juvenile,” and asked Anais Nin to marry him, claiming he would teach her how to write. Wilson was interested in “Symbolist” literature, a genre which cannot be defined; those like Wilson, who were interested in it, claimed it was post-Romantic. Wilson, a typical Modernist, defined Romanticism as something silly which preceded Realism. Wilson’s opinion of Poe was that Americans were too “provincial” to appreciate him, unlike Wilson himself, who thought Poe “insane” and whose whole understanding of Poe was that Poe was a bridge between Romanticism and Symbolism—which is ignorant. We always hear that Wilson had “many wives and many affairs,” but why any woman would be interested in this pompous hack is hard to fathom. My guess is that he tried to have affairs and they came to eventually be reported as affairs. He could get literary women published, since he was a well-connected reviewer; perhaps he had personal charisma; perhaps his socialist opinions made him seem gallant with a certain set. His writing  is pedantic, dreary, worthless. A writer who believes in world socialism and makes Baudelaire his specialty has to be suspect. Wilson hung around Edna Millay a great deal; it calls to mind for us Yeats and Maude Gonne: great women harmed by politically motivated men who did more than admire them. Millay was a thousand times the genius Wilson—the more worldly—was.

Northrop Frye, unlike Edmund Wilson, was not worldly. He was merely a professor, and a very good one. He came under scrutiny from the Canadian government for his opposition to the Vietnam War, but Frye’s influence was chiefly literary.

Frye’s influence can be summed up this way: Harold Bloom. Criticism eclipses Reviewing. Useless and pretentious literature gets a free pass because it fits into the professor’s “scientific” view of literary “tradition.”  Frye, like Bloom, excuses all sorts of nuttiness in the name of Profound Scholarship. One doesn’t read a book. One takes a book and fits it into an ever-changing tradition that includes the Bible and various texts throughout recorded history, in a way that changes those texts: modernism, as invented by its godfather, T.S. Eliot. The one thing that is not allowed is common sense. The unstable and the ‘highly significant’ rule. Reality as understood in a populist context is forbidden.

Edmund Wilson falsely presented himself as an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, in order to “upset” theological authority. Frye/Bloom has the same ambition, a bold one. Confuse, and then attempt to be influential within that confusion. Literature as Fabricated Contemporary Religious Scholarship. Literature, for the Ambitious Modernist Critic, is not something which comes into the life of someone who peruses a story or a poem for a half an hour from its beginning to its end, the story or poem succeeding or failing on its own terms. Literature is rather a vast joint corporate enterprise which demands abstract expert-ism as far removed from the ordinary reading experience as possible. Welcome to John Crowe Ransom’s “Criticism, Inc.” Welcome to Harold Bloom’s “Anxiety.” Welcome to Edmund Wilson’s “Symbolism.” Welcome to Northrop Frye’s “Science.”

Words, words, words.

WINNER: EDMUND WILSON

*

HELENE CIXOUS VERSUS J.L. AUSTIN

Austin exists in the present, with his theory of performative language: language, in the most radical sense imaginable, does not mean; it does.

Cixous (pronounced seek-soo, or ‘looking for Sue’) exists in the past, since her work comes out of her academic success in the radical 60s and 70s in France, when French Writing (Ecriture) Theory exploded onto the scene, casting aside German Idealism and Anglo-American pragmatism as the sexiest thing around. Why sexy? Why the past? Because Western Tradition had repressed everything that was not Male and Ideal; and now Cixous was ‘writing’ the ‘female body’ in order to redeem the past—which clings to the effort.

Austin worked for British intelligence; in him, Anglo-American pragmatism, in its smug complacency, triumphs over the French Theory and the Freud and the Feminism and the Derrida and the Lacan of Cixous—who finally over-argues her case.

If the goal of the woman is to triumph over her mere flesh, while the man’s ambition is to reduce the woman to mere flesh for his pleasure, it is clear that feminist projects which rely on dualisms of past/present, A/not A, penis/no penis, male/female, light/darkness, many/one, speech/language, West/East, body/mind, beautiful/ugly, are doomed to fail, for even with conscious efforts to subvert these dualisms, the French Theorist either remains trapped in them, or drifts off into over-heated incoherence.

Austin, by showing that language is performance, brought flesh to language in a way the French Theorists, with their deferrals of meaning and their difference, could never quite pull off; non-gendered flesh, too, and thus deliciously feminist/not feminist.

WINNER: AUSTIN

*

EDWARD SAID VERSUS SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR

The one overwhelming thing which Modernism did, and here we include everything, whether it is the feminism of a De Beauvoir or the postcolonial historicism of a Said, was the squashing of sincerity.

Is sincerity a good in itself?

If it is naive, and based in ignorance, if it lacks irony or a sense of humor, they will say sincerity verges on stupidity.

We speak of a useful sincerity, however, free of pain, which, even within its “stupidity,” has the potential to abide and achieve and discover hidden good.

There is a kind of false and bitter “sincerity” which depends on a surrounding insincerity for its existence, an energy possessed by the socialist who needs to convert the world to its vision of simple good, for example. But such ‘save-the-world’ proselytizing is rarely sincere. It assumes too much insincerity in the other.

The kind of sincerity which Modernity has destroyed is the pure and simple kind, guided by love and hope and innocence, neither afflicted nor distracted by deep anxieties or doubts.

This type of sincerity, we imagine, is at the heart of Mozart’s music, and any sustained action of genius: naive, focused, splendid, unique, human, alone, happy.

At first blush, this good type of sincerity is described (and attacked) as sentimentality. The cynic dare not call it stupidity, for the cynic is well aware of how everything is stupid or ‘not what it seems,’ this knowledge characterizing the unsentimental cynic in the first place.

Simone De Beauvoir had to attack sentimentality to ‘free’ women from the dire effects of Victorian romance. For Said, the citizens of the West had to be made aware of the blood on their hands—not just employees of the East India Company—everyone is somehow guilty.

Sentimentality as it existed in the 19th century in the great writings of the Romantics and even in writers like Wilde, who used his wit to keep the spirit of the Romantics alive, was banished in the 20th century, and with it, the more important, and more beneficial, sincerity; the sincerity which stimulates people in a reciprocating atmosphere of cheerfulness and good withers, as churlish cynicism triumphs among the self-aware, chattering classes.

Stupidity of the brain is sometimes necessary for wisdom in the heart.

As De Beauvoir writes:

To recognize in woman a human being is not to impoverish man’s experience: this would lose none of its diversity, its richness, or its intensity if it were to occur between two subjectivities. To discard the myths is not to destroy all dramatic relation between the sexes, it is not to deny the significance authentically revealed to man through feminine reality; it is not to do away with poetry, love, adventure, happiness, dreaming. It is simply to ask, that behavior, sentiment, passion be founded upon the truth.

She protests too much.

Said, who spent his childhood in the British colony of Palestine, wrote:

Too often literature and culture are presumed to be politically, even historically innocent; it has regularly seemed otherwise to me, and certainly my study of Orientalism has convinced me (and I hope will convince my literary colleagues) that society and literary culture can only be understood and studied together. In addition, and by an almost inescapable logic, I have found myself writing the history of a strange, secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism. That anti-Semitism and, as I have discussed it in its Islamic branch, Orientalism resemble each other very closely is a historical, cultural, and political truth that needs only to be mentioned to an Arab Palestinian for its irony to be be perfectly understood.

The genie is out of the bottle. Not only is war impossible, peace and reason are, too. Where the phrase “anti-Semitism” exists, sincerity cannot exist. Luckily, one can get back a certain amount of sincerity by stepping off the stage, putting aside certain books, and ignoring certain individuals. But the problem with the landscape remains.

WINNER: SAID

*

SARTRE VERSUS HAROLD BLOOM

We expect critics to be critical. As Northrop Frye has said, we can’t teach literature, only the criticism of literature, and this is why so many poets hate critics—precisely because critics are critical in Frye’s sense. And, since Frye is correct, Criticism dominates learning, our learning, whether we want it to, or not. And more than this, Criticism writes our poetry, as well. Wilde and Poe both explicitly stated the obvious: the critical sense is what writes the poetry; the so-called creative or imaginative faculty is merely the critical faculty reversed. Criticism does not create, it judges; exactly, and the creative faculty does not create either (only God does)—the creative faculty combines; and every moment of the combining process is effected by the judgment, by the critical intelligence of the artist.

Harold Bloom is a successful critic for the same reason Poe was a successful critic: a host of minor poets strongly dislike them. Bloom pursues the logic laid out here by vilifying Poe and championing Emerson; Poe’s test was more severe: one was less a critic if one was not a poet (Bloom is not) while Emerson’s test simply said that any strong argument was poetry. Poe’s rivalry is something Bloom cannot face. Bloom is therefore not critical, precisely because his critical choices are driven by the fact that he is not a poet himself—which fulfills the prophecy.

Sartre is too anti-Literature to be a poet or a critic; Sartre is like Bloom, then, but one who knocks over Bloom’s chess pieces, even as Sartre agrees with Emerson that argument is finally all.  Listen to Sartre here:

There is no ‘gloomy literature,’ since, however dark may be the colors in which one paints the world, one paints it only so that free men may feel their freedom as they face it. Thus, there are only good and bad novels. The bad novel aims to please by flattering, whereas the good one is an exigence and an act of faith. But above all, the unique point of view from which the author can present the world to those freedoms whose concurrence he wishes to bring about is that of a world to be impregnated always with more freedom.  One can imagine a good novel being written by an American negro even if hatred of the whites were spread all over it, because it is the freedom of his race that he demands through his hatred. But nobody can suppose for a moment that it is possible to write a good novel in praise of anti-Semitism. For, the moment I feel that my freedom is indissolubly linked with that of all other men, it cannot be demanded of me that I use it to approve the enslavement of a part of these men. Thus, whether he is an essayist, a pamphleteer, a satirist, or a novelist, whether he speaks of individual passions or whether he attacks the social order, the writer, a free man addressing free men, has only one subject—freedom.

Sartre is still playing chess, with white and black pieces, even though some have run away in an attempt to be “free.” Bloom plays a more elaborate game of chess, one that keeps the pieces upright, even as we have no idea how the game is proceeding, though we do know Shakespeare is Bloom’s king and Emerson, the queen, perhaps. Literature can be ‘too gloomy’ for Bloom—he accused Poe of precisely this, even as he praised Emerson’s health and clarity. But those who accuse Poe of playing too much in a minor key tend to be those who play in no key at all and instead do a lot of thumping: Sartre thumps very loudly in order to flatter a certain sensibility. Bloom sings fragmented medleys, flattering in a far more rarefied fashion.

WINNER: BLOOM

The last of the women—de Beauvoir and Cixous—have fallen!

The Post-Modern bracket is now Wilson, Austin, Said, and Bloom!

 

 

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