HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

FRANZ WRIGHT GOES OFF ON MEG KEARNEY, PART TWO

Meg Kearney: The Poet of Meat-Eating Squirrels?

Everyone agrees education is a powerful tool, and reading and writing is perhaps the most important educational piece of all.

My 10 year old daughter is already writing adventure stories with descriptive elements; she watches movies (Harry Potter, etc) and reads (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nancy Drew, etc) so fictional narrative is second nature to her; it’s not entirely surprising that she enjoys filling notebooks with stories for her own amusement.  In narrative fiction, “things happen,” and the author passively reports ‘things happening.’  When, and if, my daughter asserts herself with a ‘lyric I’ and proffers opinions in essays, I’ll know she has truly arrived as a person of Letters.

The poem and the essay are the heart and the mind of the literate person—who might possibly make a difference in society’s influential conversations. 

Beyond both the illiterate and the literate is the super-literate, the one who brings philosophical force to reading and writing.  The goal of education  should be to make every student not just literate, but super-literate: philosophers, active thinkers, questioners of the status quo, and also makers of beauty, architects of taste, builders of bravery and morale.

This rambling preface is by way of saying that when we critique poems, we are doing more than that: we are peering into the mind of society itself; poetry and teaching poetry are not marginal or trivial activities; the fact is, nothing is more important.  

That is why Franz Wright’s harsh and principled refusal to participate in Meg Kearney’s Workshop is not just bad manners; it’s more like a cultural flashpoint.

We do not mean to pick on Meg Kearney, but her poem cries out for analysis; it’s the kind of poem manufactured in Writing Programs across the country: this is the format of the modern poem as developed at Iowa 50 years ago, a development based on the Modernist revolution. I’m sure millions (tens of millions?) of poems like this are cranked out each year.  Here is the poem again:

Carnal

I suppose squirrels have their hungers, too,
like the one I saw today with the ass end of a mouse
jutting from its mouth. I was in the park;
I’d followed the stare of a dog, marveled
as the dog seemed to marvel that the squirrel
didn’t gag on the head, gulped so far down
that squirrel’s throat nearly all that was visible
was the grey mouse rump, its tail a string
too short to be saved. The dog and I couldn’t
stop gawking. The squirrel looked stunned himself —
the way my ex, The Big Game Hunter, looked
when I told him I was now a vegetarian.
We’d run into each other at a street fair
in Poughkeepsie. The hotdog he was eating
froze in his hand, pointed like a stubby finger,
accused me of everything I’d thought
I’d wanted, and what I’d killed to get it.

Let’s examine it: 

Narrative:  I was in a park, with a dog, and the two of us marveled at a squirrel with a mouse stuck in its throat, the squirrel’s stunned appearance reminding me of my ex when I told him I was a vegetarian; his hotdog pointed at me like a finger accusing me of everything I’d thought I’d wanted, and what I’d killed to get it.

Metaphor: A stunned squirrel (eating a mouse) compared to a stunned person (eating a hotdog).   A hotdog compared to a stubby finger.

Meaning: Humans, who like squirrels, apparently don’t need meat to live, will kill to get meat, and other things, they only think they want.

Form:  A six sentence paragraph, broken into 17 lines.

The poem can be edited down to 14 lines, eliminating unnecessary information (I was in the park, I saw my ex at a street fair in Poughkeepsie).

Squirrels, too, have their hungers.
I saw one today with the ass end of a mouse
Jutting from its mouth. I followed the stare of a dog—
We both marveled that the squirrel didn’t gag on the head
Gulped far down, the mouse rump and tail
All that was visible, its tail a string too short to be saved.
The dog and I couldn’t stop gawking.
The squirrel looked stunned himself—
The way my ex, the Big Game Hunter, looked
When, meeting by chance, I told him I was now a vegetarian.
The hotdog he was eating froze in his hand,
Pointing like a stubby finger, accusing me
Of everything I’d thought I’d wanted
And what I’d killed to get it.

These slight edits are not important—Kearney’s poem is prose, and hangs on what it says; tweaking its ‘poetic rhetoric’ isn’t going to save or kill the poem.

What’s wrong with this poem?

We have to ask this because that’s what Criticism is.  That’s what the human mind is for—it asks, what’s wrong?

The heart writes the poem, the heart that wants to be happy. The heart knows when it’s happy and by ratio of its happiness the heart doesn’t need the querulous mind; maybe the poet was happy when they wrote the poem, but when we at Scarriet read Kearney’s poem, it does not make us happy.  So the heart looks to the head for an explanation: why aren’t we happy?  If the head can’t tell us, we will be really unhappy.  Now is that period where we don’t know and we want to know, and we hie into the great blank.

The head is shrewd, and knows we need to do more than just read and re-read the poem—the poem has its own justification for its existence—they all do; the answer lies outside the poem, and so here’s what our critical mind does:

We make an ideal comparison; that is, we bring in other elements of the universe in order to judge the poem.  Not understand the poem—judge it; they are very different.  Some would say judgement here is wrong, and all we need is understanding.  But they err. Understanding and judging are both vital and necessary.  The former focuses, the latter compares.  The understanding revels in the infinite; the judgment seeks necessary limitation, and works on merely excelling its neighbor. The understanding is profound, but never sure; the judgement, certain, because comparison is all it requires.

We ask: is there a different means by which whatever this poem expresses could be expressed better?

Kearney’s poem is built around an image: a squirrel with a mouse half-way down its throat.  This picture is the poem’s aesthetic spirit; it animates the poem.  The poem lives or dies by this squirrel image because poetry is a temporal art—we don’t experience a poem, like a painting, immediately; we experience a poem sequentially, in pieces, as we read.  Aesthetically, then, if the squirrel-with-mouse image fails, the poem fails, no matter what follows.  Opening bars of music are enriched by subsequent bars, not rescued by them if they are flawed. Just as a painting is not looked at until it becomes good, a poem or piece of music cannot be displeasing in the beginning and then unfold until it becomes pleasing—the masterwork always pleases—even in what might be called discords. The poet herself tells us the picture of the squirrel with the mouse was “a marvel,” so  marvelous and stunning, a non-human witness marvels at it.  The poem banks on this image—described in prosaic terms. Poetry is not painting, so work has to be done to convey the image in words—in Kearney’s poem this work is not a poetic process, but a descriptive, prose one.

In our comparison: What if we had a poster which was a photo of a squirrel choking on a mouse (the precise image of the poem) and a caption beneath it: “Hungry?”

Our poster—Kearney’s poem in a different medium—more efficiently, effectively, and viscerally expresses what Kearney’s poem expresses—for the squirrel’s hunger and our human reaction to it (marvel, laughter, self-criticism, disgust) is the same in poster and poem.

This is why Kearney’s poem fails.  It does not fail, really, until the Mind Acts, until this Criticism (which is not criticism, per se, but only observation ranging away from the poem itself) is gently put beside it.  Kearney failed to take into account the potential idealized use of her rough-and-tumble image within the context of the medium (poetry) she was working in.

A Workshop close-reading of Kearney’s poem cannot unlock the mystery.  The New Critics’ insidious influence (the New Critics’ success paralleled the rise of the Creative Writing Program, and, in fact, the same gentlemen were involved) is more baleful than anyone knows. 

Franz Wright knows in his heart the reality of this.  We have just articulated it for him.

Poetry itself is not meant to be “difficult.” (T.S. Eliot, the New Critics’ godfather, was wrong on this point.)  But once we claim to teach it, the sea of judgement will come down from the heavens and the unthinking sowers of confusion will be found out.

THE CONTROVERSIAL FRANZ WRIGHT: PUNK OR PROPHET?

Meg Kearney: is she the victim?

Here is the Franz Wright letter generating all the controversy:

Meg Kearney, in response to your invitation, insinuating I would like the writing program at Pine Manor: you have to be shitting me—have I not made it clear that MFA programs have turned poetry into an occupation and a joke—have weakened american poetry, have desecrated it into artifact instead of a result of a soul’s progress in solitary devotion. You have turned it into one more subject in a university or college or private scam operation like yours. Everyone from no talent unknowns to Chs Simic, C Wright, Levine, Strand, etc (those magnificently promising poets born in the late twenties and thirties who sold their souls to the deans for an upper middle class lifestyle —phony radicals, hypocrites all, like Carolyn Forche, live in a luxury unimaginable to the human beings they play act solidarity with can make it if you imitate whatever ephemeral bullshit is hip at the moment —a real writer has always sought solitude, not group therapy…Those writing programs have lowered the bar so far down anyone can trip over it and get a degree and consider themselves A MASTER AT THE ART OF POETRY at 24 (a feat previously achieved in English only by Keats, H. Crane…any MFA subdoormat poet, like Melanie Braverman, by being a nice mommie can succeed at a school like Brandeis because real talent means nothing now—a business sense plus niceness is all…and the actual talent there, Olga Broumas,  who sold herself for health insurance maybe fifteen years ago, has not published a book since her collected, RAVE, in 1999, a disaster. How many actual poets can one generation, even a standout one produce?  We now have more writers than readers of poetry, we have ACADEMIC POETS AS THE GREAT ASPIRATION OF 21 YEAR OLD KNOW-NOTHINGS, the very enslavement real writers have been fleeing forever: you have only to picture Rimbaud or Blake in a writing workshop, they’d be out of this absurd scene (lovely line breaks, Billie) ready to slip into harness, ready to desecrate the art they claim to love and their own soul their own minds & hearts, —and YOU all get the dough. Think of the state of the soul and just cut it out. You can still choose. Franz Wright

The general response to FW’s letter has been, predictably, ‘oh how mean!’ or this one from Diane Seuss:

it’s a Republican view, yours, isn’t it, exclusivist, backward-gazing­, nostalgic for a time when there were three great men sucking at poetry’s tit-sack and not a million…

Actually, we think Franz Wright’s response is extremely fine: he goes out of his way to explain why he is refusing Meg Kearney’s invitation, instead of just saying, no.  It’s really a positive: a Pulitzer-prize winner taking the time to express his deeply-felt opinion on an issue he considers vital to poetry.

We cannot help but notice that every Franz-basher ignores the simple truth of what he says.

MFA programs have turned poetry into an occupation…one more subject in a university…a private scam operation like yours

Simic, C. Wright, Levine, Strand…sold their souls to the deans for an upper middle class lifestyle

phony radicals, hypocrites

a real writer has always sought solitude not group therapy

writing programs have lowered the bar so far down anyone can trip over it and get a degree and consider themselves Master at the Art of Poetry at 24 (a feat achieved in English previously only by Keats, H. Crane)

any MFA subdoormat poet, like Melanie Braverman, by being a nice mommie can succeed at a school like Brandeis because real talent means nothing now—a business sense plus niceness is all

Olga Broumas sold herself for health insurance maybe fifteen years ago

How many poets can one generation, even a standout one, produce?

We now have more writers than readers of poetry

We have Academic Poets as the great aspiration for 21 year old no-nothings

picture Rimbaud or Blake in a writing workshop

this absurd scene and YOU get all the dough

Think of the state of the soul and just cut it out

These are perfectly legitimate grievances, and there’s quite a lot of material, and some of it quite well said, and if these things are true, they are quite important, and really should be addressed.  Are they true?  Well, they are the opinion of Mr. Wright, and stand up as that, and anyone should be able to see their “free speech” aspect is more important than their “ill-mannered” aspect.

If poetry is being so badly taught  in MFA programs that poetic expression is being irreversibly harmed and students scammed, who better to address the issue than a Pulitzer-prize winning poet?  Who else is going to blow the whistle?  The teachers, the programs, the schools themselves?  We understand “scam” is a strong word—but if seen in the context of critical judgment (rather than a cruder accusation of outright scamming) the charge, we think, is maintainable.

Wright’s point is based on the fact that poetry is not something that anyone can learn in a few years.

A little poetry knowledge is a dangerous thing if bad poetry taught badly does delude and harm people.

The issue is pedagogical, and it certainly can be argued that teaching poetry is not value-neutral, but harmful if not done right, and therefore Wright’s warning should not be simply dismissed on the count of ‘bad manners.’  One can disagree with Wright about the worth of Keats v. Kearney, but if his opinion is correct, what he has to say is  important and useful.

Let’s take a look at a poem by Meg Kearney:

Carnal

I suppose squirrels have their hungers, too,
like the one I saw today with the ass end of a mouse
jutting from its mouth. I was in the park;
I’d followed the stare of a dog, marveled
as the dog seemed to marvel that the squirrel
didn’t gag on the head, gulped so far down
that squirrel’s throat nearly all that was visible
was the grey mouse rump, its tail a string
too short to be saved. The dog and I couldn’t
stop gawking. The squirrel looked stunned himself —
the way my ex, The Big Game Hunter, looked
when I told him I was now a vegetarian.
We’d run into each other at a street fair
in Poughkeepsie. The hotdog he was eating
froze in his hand, pointed like a stubby finger,
accused me of everything I’d thought
I’d wanted, and what I’d killed to get it.

This poem opens with vagueness, “I suppose squirrels have their hungers, too,” and it just gets worse.  Line 7’s “that squirrel’s throat” gives the mistaken impression the poet is calling the squirrel of the poem”Squirrel,” as if it were a cartoon (Rocky and Bullwinkle?).  All those “I’ds?”  Horrendous.  The poet reading a dog’s thoughts is ridiculous, and the preachy vegetarian angle involving the ex (who is stunned like the squirrel??) and the hotdog forces not only a moral down our throats, but an entire ugly poem, stretching to make its point.  Is the poet trying to make the reader gag?  I can see the anthology: Poems That Make Us Vomit.  Or: Poets Who Really Hate Their Ex.

So here’s the problem.  Meg Kearney’s poem is not accomplished.  It’s poor writing.  Should we be paying for this, or paying for this kind of thing to be taught?

So Franz Wright may certainly be ill-mannered in this instance, but in terms of aesthetics and pedagogy, he may just be right.

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