Last year’s Scarriet March Madness Tournament Champion, Ben Mazer: Should S.T. Coleridge be afraid?
First Round play in Scarriet’s Romanticism, Old and New, Madness Tournament East Bracket awaits: with icons Coleridge, Poe, Shakespeare, and T.S. Eliot, plus living poets Stephen Dunn and Ben Mazer!
First round play is finished in the North, South, and West.
So far, three living poets have managed to advance to the second round, mixing with the best Romantic poets of all time: Sharon Olds, Tony Hoagland, and Billy Collins.
Philip Nikolayev (“Litmus Test”) almost upset First Seed John Keats in the South.
One change to report: Algernon Swinburne has made the cut as a 15th seed in the East, replacing “The Ballad of Barbara Allen.” The Scarriet Madness committee has an obscure rule that no Anonymous authors may compete, thus barring the folk ballad (often replete with Romantic genius).
Here’s a recap of the poets advancing:
Goethe “Holy Longing” d. Donald Justice “In Bertram’s Garden”
Frost “Stopping By Woods” d. Thomas Campion “Follow Thy Fair Sun”
Catullus “Lesbia Let’s Live Only For Love” d. Rimbaud “Lines”
Larkin “Whitsun Weddngs” d. Thomas Traherne “Eden”
Suckling “Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover” d. Ashbery “Syringa”
Burns “Red, Red Rose” d. W.H Auden “Miss Gee”
Herrick “Delight in Disorder” d. Theodore Roethke “I Knew A Woman”
Blake “How Sweet I Roamed” d. Wallace Stevens “Peter Quince At The Clavier”
Keats “Ode To A Nightingale” d. Philip Nikolayev “Litmus Test”
Plath “Lady Lazarus” d. Poseidippus “Dorchia”
Petrarch “Whoso List To Hunt” d. Bishop “The Fish”
Wordsworth “On The Beach At Calais” d. Baudelaire “L’invitation Au Voyage”
Hoagland “A Color Of The Sky” d. Ovid “Amores I,V”
Barrett “A Musical Instrument” d. Betjemen “A Subaltern’s Love Song”
Eberhart “The Groundhog” d. Marvell “The Garden”
Olds “Primitive” d. Dante “Tanto Gentile”
Shelley “The Cloud” d. Arnold “Dover Beach”
Dryden “Song For St. Cecilia’s Day” d. Dylan Thomas “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”
Yeats “Lake Isle Of Innisfree” d. Tennyson “Mariana”
Millay “And You As Well Must Die” d. Pope “Ode On Solitude”
D.H. Lawrence “River Roses” d. Propertius “O Best Of All Nights, Return and Return Again”
Charles D’Orleans “La! Mort Qui T’A Fait Si Hardie” d. Spender “I Think Continually Of Those Who Are Truly Great”
Billy Collins “Passengers” d. Byron “Don Juan” excerpt
Walther Vogelweide “Under The LindenTree” d. Browning “Meeting At Night”
And those are the (North, South, West) winners so far!
We need 8 more from the East Bracket.
Ben Mazer, last year’s Scarriet March Madness Champion, who defeated Marilyn Chin for the title, advancing past the likes of Seamus Heaney and John Ashbery, draws a tough challenge this year: “Kubla Kahn” by Samuel Coleridge, perhaps the most famous Romantic poem of all time. Last year’s amazing run by Mazer was against living poets.
Here’s the Mazer entry:
AT THE TABUKI KABUKI
She was a hothouse flower, but she grew
to such proportions that she never knew
her brand of people, less her brand of steeple,
and saw things as they happened, from the view.
Her husband took her on his trips to Asia,
to count the factories, and meet the heads
of government and business. In her beds
were flowers, chocolates, cinctures of aphasia.
In time the path sloped upward, and the driver
relaxed a bit, began to tell his story.
It grew less clear just who was driving who,
she, the loquacious one, or he, the taciturn McGiver,
or if it was a modern sort of dory.
As she listened, she began to rue
the little fables, and the many tables,
and the entire vast illusion, too.
As we read this brief poem by Mazer, up against Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, we might think it is a lamb going to the slaughter, but not so. We observe, for instance, Mazer’s delicate ear in the first few lines: “grew, knew, people, steeple, from the view.” We also note the compactness of imagery and story; an undertone of despair sweetly mixed with an undertone of humor; informative density “heads of government and business” effortlessly combines with lyric surface: “flowers, chocolates, cintures of aphasia.”
If we might take a moment to define the genius of the Romantic era and poetic genius in general, as evinced by Mr. Mazer, it is this: the poet of genius, moved by that love in which desire seeks its goal by any means necessary, fires all its guns in a burst of fervor and ardor in which no poetic strategy is rejected, no rule is obeyed other than: the more rules broken, the better; no poetic school or fashion is followed; the poet shoots all the arrows available in his quiver at the sun.
Mazer is not rhyming so much as rejecting the modern rule that you shall not rhyme—there is a difference between the two; the Romantic rebel, we feel, and we know not how, is doing the latter.
Shelley, in a poem, writes of a “cloud,” and that’s all he does, and the wise elders think, “You can’t just have a poem about a cloud!”
This is what Romanticism is: it is not “about romance,” per se; it is love following its own vibrations, passionately rejecting rules and embracing whatever-it-takes to enkindle a certain profundity of delight.
You cannot mention McGiver—much less use it as a rhyme!—in a brief, melancholy lyric and make it work! But Mazer does. This is what impossible-to-define-genius does.
It is not what genius does that makes poetic genius genius, but how it manages to make whatever what happens to be come to life in unexpected ways.
KUBLA KHAN, a dream fragment—S.T. Coleridge
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
This poem is a mess. Yet it works, better than almost any poem ever written. What sort of claptrap is this? “A damsel with a dulcimer/In a vision once I saw” and yet who does not delight in it? The Romantic era reached this pinnacle: poets created Taste by violating it, a phenomenon which has largely been missing from poetry ever since. Since the 19th century, poets, in their compositional techniques, have been prosier, more correct—and colder.
Coleridge 88 Mazer 79
Mazer fights hard, but the iconic poem carries the day.