The 20th century, for all its ‘modernism,’ was 19th century-besotted, and we have yet to confront all our 19th century demons.

Both poems competing today confront absence.

How many types of absence are there?  There is metaphysical nothing, mathematical zero, subatomic nothing, and linguistic nothing.  Then there is just nothing.  So at least five.


“I do not know English. Therefore I have no way of communicating that I prefer this painting of nothing to that one of something.”

Palmer’s voice throughout his poem “I  Do Not” is detached, academic, but “does not know English.” The Language experiment in a nutshell.

Stanton’s poem is also about nothing: the ghosts at 19th century seances.


“Nor can I utter the words science, seance,  silence, language, and languish.”

Stanton has Robert Browning reject the seance trick, and then her poem does a remarkable thing:

“But it was done with thick plate glass and lights,
A conjurer’s trick, just like the accordian
Played by a ghost in front of Robert Browning
Who shuddered when a spirit hand reached out
And put a wreath of flowers on Elizabeth
Though afterwards he called it sham, imposture.
But that’s what I am, that’s what we all are
To one another, a trick of light and glass
Projected before an audience of dupes.”

Stanton embraces the illusion of the 19th century and her poem dramatically realizes what Palmer only speaks of.

Stanton Moves Into the Sweet Sixteen With A 59-57 victory.



Let’s get this winners and losers business out of the way…

Here are the winners:


LISA LEWIS (d. John Ashbery) Responsibility
WILLIAM MATTHEWS (d. James Wright) Good Company
GILLIAN CONOLEY (d. Robert Creeley) Beckon
CAROLYN CREEDON (d. James Tate)  litany
GREGORY CORSO (d. Stanley Kunitz)  30th Year Dream
DORIANNE LAUX (d. A.R. Ammons)  The Lovers
LESLIE SCALAPINO (d. Jack Spicer)  that they were at the beach
BARBARA GUEST (d. Larry Levis) Motion Pictures: 4


KAREN KIPP (d. Robert Lowell)  The Rat
JACK HIRSCHMANN (d. Robert Penn Warren*) The Painting
EILEEN MYLES (d. Frank O’Hara)  Eileen’s Vision
WILLIAM KULIK (d. Czeslaw Milosz)  Fictions
SHARON OLDS (d. Robin Becker)  The Request
TESS GALLAGHER (d. Richard Hugo)  The Hug
STEPHEN DOBYNS (d. Jim Harrison)  Allegorical Matters
AMY GERSTLER (d. Norman Dubie)  Sinking Feeling


JACK MYERS (d. Seamus Heaney)  The Experts
PHILIP LARKIN (d. Joseph Duemer)  Aubade
BILL KNOTT (d. Robert Bly)  Monodrome
EDWARD FIELD (d. Donald Justice)  Whatever Became of Freud
MAURA STANTON (d. Anne Carson)  The Veiled Lady
ALAN DUGAN (d. Hayden Carruth)  Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton
HOWARD NEMEROV (d. David Ignatow)  IFF
MICHAEL PALMER (d. Yusef Komunyakaa)  I Do Not


ALLEN GINSBERG (d. Howard Moss) The Charnel Ground
DONALD HALL (d. Douglas Crase)  To A Waterfowl
RICHARD CECIL (d. Robert Hass)  Apology
JOY HARJO (d. Sylvia Plath)  A Post-Colonial Tale
JAMES SCHUYLER (d. Stephanie Brown)  Red Brick and Brown Stone
REED WHITTEMORE (d. Heather McHugh)  Smiling Through
STEPHEN DUNN (d. Sam Hamill)  What They Wanted
CAROL MUSKE (d. Charles Bukowski)  A Former Lover, A Lover of Form

* Robert Penn Warren resigned from the tourney

MARLA MUSE: Some of the losers I really don’t want to say goodbye to; the Milosz, the Justice, the Dubie, the McHugh…

The Bukowski…there’s something holy about his work, a wry honesty that few poets evince…I was thinking about the qualities that go into writing good poetry, both the New Critical qualities of the poem itself and those qualities the poet as a human being must have…

MARLA MUSE: The poet must say the right thing at the right time.

Or seem to.  Because in real situations in life, that’s a good quality to have: to be able to say the right thing at the right time, but for the poet, “time” can be years as they work on the poem, which distorts the meaning of that ability, the ability to say the right thing at the right time: if someone really has that ability in life, to really say the right thing at the right time, they wouldn’t need to fake it in a poem…

MARLA MUSE: Oh, you’re getting all Plato on me…life is real, poetry is fake

But isn’t it true, Marla, that ‘saying the right thing at the right time’ is not the same thing in life, as it is in poetry…poets can wait for the right time to pass, but in life, you can’t…the room is silent, and life calls for something to be said then, but to be a poet you can slink away and say something later…it doesn’t have to be at the right time

MARLA MUSE: The right time in the poem?

Yes, when you failed to say the right thing at the right time in life…

MARLA MUSE: But if we’re talking about qualities, the person who can say the right thing in a poem is probably the person who can say the right thing in life…

No, because if you can say the right thing at the right time in life, there’s no motivation to do so in a poem, for the poem is a shadow…life doesn’t let us wait years…

MARLA MUSE: But it does.  You are trying to connect life and poetry, you are trying to connect two things, and you can’t, and therefore you are saying nothing…

Am I?  So I shouldn’t have asked my original question: what qualities in life match those qualities in the poet…

MARLA MUSE: What about not fearing to go into an underground mine?  Does that help a poet?  To risk your life for somone else, does that have anything to do with being a poet?  I think we can only look at the poem.  I think the New Critics were right…

But Marla, you are beautiful!  How can you say something like that?

MARLA MUSE: Are we talking about poetry?

Thomas Brady is never talking about poetry, is he?

MARLA MUSE: Well, Tom, sometimes you do…

I’m thinking about that Bukowski poem, the car headlights, the remark by the mother, and the son’s joking, half-shameful, half-boastful response, and all the various parts in that Bukowski poem—isn’t the good poem when all those parts cohere?

MARLA MUSE: Bukowski lost! Why are you talking about him? Ah, you are recalling that debate you had…when you used the word “incoherent”…clever boy…you’re a New Critic, after all…

Yea, but the New Critics themselves were such narrow-minded, creepy—

MARLA MUSE: They hated the Romantics, that’s all, but that’s why you’re here, Tommy boy…

But right now this is not about me…congratulations, poets!


Schwartz: easy target?

In the North Bracket, Scarriet March Madness continues as Michael Palmer and Yusef Komunyakaa clash.

I Do Not

I do not know English, and therefore I can have nothing to
say about this latest war, flowering through a night-
scope in the evening sky.

I do not know English, and therefore, when hungry, can do no
more than repeatedly point to my mouth.

Yet such a gesture may be taken to mean a number of

I do not know English, and therefore cannot seek the requisite
permissions, as outlined in the recent protocol.

Such as: May I utter a term of endearment; may I now proceed
to put my arm or arms around you and apply gentle
pressure; may I now kiss you directly on the lips; now
on the left tendon of the neck; now on the nipple of
each breast? And so on.

Would not in any case be able to decipher her response.

I do not know English. Therefore I have no way of
communicating that I prefer this painting of nothing to
that one of something.

No way to speak of my past or my hopes for the future, of my
glasses mysteriously shattered in Rotterdam, the statue
of Eros and Psyche in the Summer Garden, the sudden,
shrill cries in the streets of Sao Paulo, a watch
abruptly stopping in Paris.

No way to tell the joke about the rabbi and the parrot, the
bartender and the duck, the Pope and the porte-cochere.

You will understand why you have received no letters from me
and why yours have gone unread.

Those, that is, where you write so precisely of the
confluence of the visible universe with the invisible,
and the lens of dark matter.

No way to differentiate the hall of mirrors from the meadow
of mullein, the beetlebung from the pinkeltink, the
kettlehole from the ventifact.

Nor can I utter the words science, seance, silence, language
and languish.

Nor can I tell of the arboreal shadows elongated and shifting
along the wall as the sun’s angle approaches maximum
hibernal declination.

Cannot tell of the almond-eyed face that peered from the
well, the ship of stone whose sail was a tongue.

And I cannot report that this rose has twenty-four petals,
one slightly cankered.

Cannot tell how I dismantled it myself at this desk.

Cannot ask the name of this rose.

I cannot repeat the words of the Recording Angel or those of
the Angel of Erasure.

Can speak neither of things abounding nor of things

Still the games continue. A muscular man waves a stick at a
ball. A woman in white, arms outstretched, carves a true
circle in space. A village turns to dust in the chalk

Because I do not know English I have variously been called
Mr. Twisted, The One Undone, The Nonrespondent, The
Truly Lost Boy, and Laughed-At-By-Horses.

The war is declared ended, almost before it has begun.

They have named it The Ultimate Combat Between Nearness and

I do not know English.

–Michael Palmer

MARLA MUSE: Nice. This works on more than one level.

Indeed it does, Marla.  Now let’s take a look at the Komunyakaa entry:

Forgive and Live

Ralph Ellison didn’t
have his right hand
on her left breast

& they weren’t kissing
in the doorway of Blackmur’s
kitchen. But Delmore

Schwartz tried to slap
his wife, Elizabeth,
at the Christmas party

anyway. When he pulled
her into a side bedroom
the house swelled into a big

white amp for Caliban’s
blues. Maybe their fight
began one evening about sex

years earlier, not enough
money for food & gasoline.
But she’d only been leaning

against Ellison’s shoulder
to let him light her cigarette,
just a lull in the conversation

about Duke Ellington’s
“Creole Love Call”
& the New Critics.

That night, the falling
snow through the windows
was a white spotlight

on his dark face
a perfect backdrop
for Delmore’s rehearsal

for the women
who would pass
through his life

like stunned llamas,
for the drunken stars
exploding in his head,

like the taxicabs
taken from Cambridge
to Greenwich Village, the fear

of death, the Dexedrine
clouds & poison-pen letters
floating back to earth,

for the notes in margins
of Rilke’s Duino
Elegies & his love-hate

of T.S. Eliot,
for Chunley’s Bar,
those days of grey

boxcars flickering past
as he paced Washington
Square Park, impulsive

bouquets stolen from gardens
& given to lovers with dirt
clinging to the roots,

for his fascination
with Marilyn Monroe,
the Dreyfus case, Kafka

quoting Flaubert, the day
after JFK’s assassination
spent wandering the streets

in unbuckled galoshes,
for Cavanaugh’s Irish Bar
in Chelsea & the Egyptian

Gardens on West Twenty-ninth,
Dixie’s Plantation Lounge,
for his last night on earth,

stumbling from a forest
of crumpled girlie magazines,
as he takes the garbage

down to the lobby,
singing about lovers
in the Duchess’s red shoes.

–Yusef Komunyakaa

MARLA MUSE: I don’t know.  Delmore Schwartz seems too easy a target; I’m not sure I see the point.

Not many points for Komunyakaa in this one, Marla. 

Palmer wins, 62-48.

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