YES! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!!!

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1. Vanessa Place —The High Creator does not create.

2. Kenneth Goldsmith —Death to the “creative” once and for all.

3. Simon Armitage —Best known for 9/11 poem, wins Oxford Poetry Professorship

4. A.E. Stallings —Lost the Oxford. World is still waiting for a good New Formalist poet.

5. John Ashbery —Doesn’t need to be good. Unlike New Formalists, his content and form agree.

6. Marjorie Perloff —Must confront this question: is the “non-creative” nearly racist by default?

7. Ron Silliman —Keeps tabs on the dying. Burned by the Avant Racism scandal.

8. Stephen Burt —Stephanie goes to Harvard.

9. Rita Dove —We asked her about Perloff; she laughed. No intellectual pretense.

10. Claudia Rankine —Social confrontation as life and death.

11. Juan Felipe Herrera —New U.S. Poet Laureate. MFA from Iowa. Farm workers’ son.

12. William Logan —“Shakespeare, Pope, Milton by fifth grade.” In the Times. He’s trying.

13. Patricia Lockwood —“Rape Joke” went Awl viral.

14. Lawrence Ferlinghetti —At 96, last living Beat.

15. Richard Wilbur —At 94, last living Old Formalist.

16. Don Share —Fuddy-duddy or cutting edge? It’s impossible to tell with Poetry.

17. Valerie Macon —Good poet. Hounded from NC Laureate job for lacking creds.

18. Helen Vendler —New book of essays a New Critical tour de force. Besotted with Ashbery and Graham.

19. Cathy Park Hong —Fighting the racist Avant Garde.

20. David Lehman —As the splintering continues, his BAP seems less and less important.

21. Billy Collins —His gentle historical satire is rhetoric nicely fitted to free verse.

22. David Orr —Common sense critic at the Times.

23. Frank Bidart —Student of Lowell and Bishop, worked with James Franco. Drama. Confessionalism.

24. Kevin Coval —Co-editor of Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.

25. Philip Nikolayev —Globe-trotting translator, editor, poet.

26. Ben Mazer —Neo-Romantic. Has advanced past Hart Crane.

27. Amy KingHates mansplaining. 

28. Sharon Olds —Best living female poet?

29. Louise Gluck —Her stock is quietly rising.

30. Jorie Graham —Her Collected has landed.

31. George Bilgere —If you like Billy Collins…and what’s wrong with that?

32. Garrison Keillor —Is he retiring?

33. Kent Johnson —Is his Prize List so quickly forgotten?

34. David Biespiel —One of the villagers trying to chase Conceptualism out of town.

35. Carol Ann Duffy —The “real” Poet Laureate—she’s Brih-ish.

36. Cate Marvin —Poet who leads the VIDA hordes.

37. Lyn Hejinian —The best Language Poet?

38. Dan ChiassonNew Yorker house critic.

39. Michael Robbins —As with Logan, we vastly prefer the criticism to the poetry.

40. Joe Green —His Selected, The Loneliest Ranger, has been recently published.

41. Harold Bloom —The canonizer.

42. Dana Gioia —The best of New Formalism.

43. Seth Abramson —Meta-Modernism. That dog won’t hunt.

44. Henry Gould —Better at responding than asserting; reflecting the present state of Criticism today.

45. W.S. Merwin —Knew Robert Graves—who recommended mushroom eating (yea, that kind of mushroom) as Oxford Poetry Professor in the 60s.

46. Marilyn Chin —Passionate lyricist of “How I Got That Name.”

47. Anne Carson —“The Glass Essay” is a confessional heartbreak.

48. Terrence Hayes —Already a BAP editor.

49. Timothy Steele —Another New Formalist excellent in theorizing—but too fastidious as a poet.

50. Natasha Trethewey —Was recently U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms.

51. Tony Hoagland —Hasn’t been heard from too much since his tennis poem controversy.

52. Camille Paglia —Aesthetically, she’s too close to Harold Bloom and the New Critics.

53. William Kulik —Kind of the Baudelaire plus Hemingway of American poetry. Interesting, huh?

54. Mary Oliver —Always makes this list, and we always mumble something about “Nature.”

55. Robert Pinsky —He mentored VIDA’s Erin Belieu.

56. Alan Cordle —We will never forget how Foetry.com changed the game.

57. Cole Swensen –A difficult poet’s difficult poet.

58. Charles Bernstein —One day Language Poetry will be seen for what it is: just another clique joking around.

59. Charles Wright —Pulitzer in ’98, Poet Laureate in ’14.

60. Paul Muldoon New Yorker Nights

61. Geoffrey Hill —The very, very difficult school.

62. Derek Walcott —Our time’s Homer?

63. Janet Holmes —Program Era exemplar.

64. Matthew Dickman —The youth get old. Turning 40.

65. Kay Ryan —Are her titles—“A Ball Rolls On A Point”—better than her poems?

66. Laura Kasischke —The aesthetic equivalent of Robert Penn Warren?

67. Nikki Finney —NAACP Image Award

68. Louis Jenkins —His book of poems, Nice Fish, is a play at the American Repertory Theater this winter.

69. Kevin Young —A Stenger Fellow who studied with Brock-Broido and Heaney at Harvard

70. Timothy Donnelly —His Cloud Corporation made a big splash.

71. Heather McHugh —Her 2007 BAP guest editor volume is one of the best.

72. D.A. Powell —Stephen Burt claims he is original and accessible to an extraordinary degree.

73. Eileen Myles —We met her on the now-defunct Blog Harriet Public Form.

74. Richard Howard —Pulitzer-winning essayist, critic, translator and poet

75. Robert Hass —U.S. Poet Laureate in the 90s, a translator of haiku and Milosz.

76. Rae Armantrout —Emily Dickinson of the Avant Garde?

77. Peter Gizzi —His Selected, In Defense of Nothing, came out last year.

78. Fanny Howe —Is it wrong to think everything is sacred? An avant-garde Catholic.

79. Robert Archambeau —His blog is Samizdat. Rhymes with Scarriet.

80. X.J. Kennedy —Keeping the spirit of Frost alive.

81. Robert PolitoPoetry man.

82. David Ferry —Classical poetry translator.

83. Mark Doty —A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

84. Al Filreis  —Co-founder of PennSound

85. Frederick Seidel —Has been known to rhyme malevolence with benevolence.

86. Sherman Alexie —Is taught in high school. We wonder how many on this list are?

87. Marie Howe —Margaret Atwood selected her first book for a prize.

88. Carol Muske-Dukes —In recent Paris Review interview decried cutting and pasting of “Unoriginal Genius.”

89. Martha Ronk —In the American Hybrid anthology from Norton.

90. Juliana Spahr —Has a PhD from SUNY Buffalo. Hates “capitalism.”

91. Patricia Smith —Four-time winner of the National Poetry Slam.

92. Dean Young —His New & Selected, Bender, was published in 2012.

93. Jennifer Knox —Colloquial and brash.

94. Alicia Ostriker —“When I write a poem, I am crawling into the dark.”

95. Yusef Komunyakaa —Known for his Vietnam poems.

96. Stephen Dunn —His latest work is Lines of Defense: Poems.

97. Thomas Sayer Ellis —Poet and photographer.

98. Carolyn Forche —Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University.

99. Margaret Atwood —Poet, novelist, and environmental activist.

100. Forrest Gander —The Trace is his latest.

 

 

 

 

 

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IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR…POETRY’S HOT 100!!!!!

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1. Valerie Macon—Credentialing 1, Poetry 0

2. Patricia Lockwood—“Rape Joke” first viral-era poem to go viral?

3. Paul Lewis—Poe scholar brings Poe statue to Boston: The Jingle Man Returneth

4. Marjorie Perloff—Every era needs its Uber-Critic

5. Charles Wright—New Poet Laureate

6. Camille Paglia—Zeitgeist, Firebrand, Sexual Ethics, Gadfly.

7. James Franco—Can Hollywood make poetry cool again?

8. David LehmanBest American Poetry best anthology gathering-place.

9. Richard Blanco—interviewed in Vogue

10. Garrison Keillor—King of Quietism

11. Kenny Goldsmith—We understand some people take him seriously

12. Marilyn Chin—New book, Hard Love Province (Norton)

13. Amy King—Lesbians trying to take over the world!

14. Charles Bernstein—Papers going to Yale

15. Tao Lin—Alt-Lit unravels

16. William Logan—Every era needs the Kick ass Review

17. George Bilgere—Imperial is new; only poet who can out-Collins Collins.

18. Stephen Burt—Harvard’s frenzy of sweet political correctness.

19. Josh Baines—rips apart Alt-Lit on Vice.com

20. Don Share—Steering Poetry Foundation Mother Ship

21. Ron Silliman—Guiding Avant-garde ships through Quietism’s shallows

22. Ben Mazer—Neo-Romantic publishes Collected Ransom, the South’s T.S. Eliot

23. Frank Bidart—Punk Rock Robert Lowell

24. Paul Muldoon—Drives the New Yorker

25. Philip Nikolayev—Bringing back Fulcrum

26. Vanessa Place—Museum performer

27. Casey Rocheteau —Wins a home in Detroit for being a poet!

28. Natasha Trethewey—Bids farewell to the Laureateship

29. Billy Collins—Ashbery with meaning

30. Terrence Hayes—Wins MacArthur

31. Harold Bloom—Anxiety of Flatulence?

32. Mary Oliver—Nature poetry sells?

33. David OrrNew York Times Book Review column

34. Adam Kirsch-New Republic critic

35. Susan Wheeler—“narrative glamour” -John Ashbery

36. Andrew Motion—President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England

37. Khaled Matawa—2014 MacArthur Winner

38. Richard Howard—James Merrill lives!

39. John Ashbery—Old Man Obscurity.

40. Eileen Myles—“always hungry”

41. Mark Doty—Brother of Sharon Olds

42. Rae Armantrout—Silliman is a fan

43. Al Filreis—MOOCS!

44. Anne Carson—“inscrutable brilliance” –NY Times

45. Michael Robbins—The Second Sex (Penguin)

46. C.D. Wright—from the Ozarks

47. Lisa RobertsonChicago Review gave her a special issue

48. Claudia Rankine—Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

49. CAConradPhilip Seymour Hoffman (were you high when you said this?) is his new book

50. Ariana Reines—“To be a memory to men”

51. Kim Adonizzio—“I want that red dress bad”

52. Frederick Seidel—Nominated for Pulitzer in Poetry

53. Kay Ryan—U.S. Poet Laureate 2008 to 2010

54. Edward HirschThe Living Fire, new and selected

55. Christian Wiman–ex-Poetry editor

56. Cornelius Eady—Nominated for a Pulitzer in Drama

57. Bin Ramke—Georgia Foetry Scandal

58. Jorie Graham—Collected Poems coming this winter

59. Erin Belieu—VIDA vision

60. Forrest Gander—anthropological

61. Amjad Nasser—run in w/Homeland Security

62. Ann Lauterbach—her poetry “goes straight to the elastic, infinite core of time” -John Ashbery

63. Rita Dove—editor, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry

64. Sharon Olds—Mark Doty’s sister

65.  Carol Ann Duffy—High powered, story-telling, Brit

66. Robert Archambeau—Rhyme is returning

67. Monica Handme and Nina, Alice James Books

68. Margo Berdeshersky—“understands how eros is a form of intelligence” -Sven Birkerts

69. Shelagh Patterson—“succeeds in forcing students to become critical thinkers” from Rate My Professors

70. Jennifer Bartlett—“this will all be over soon”

71. Lynne Thompson—“Vivaldi versus Jay-Z”

72. Allison Hedge Coke—Editor of Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas

73. Dan Chiasson—Poet and critic who teaches at Wellesley

74. Martin Espada—Teaches poetry at Amherst

75. Gina Myers—“Love Poem To Someone I Do Not Love”

76. Jen Bervin—Poet and visual artist

77. Mary RuefleTrances of the Blast, latest book

78. Mary Hickman—“This is for Ida who doesn’t like poetry but likes this poem”

79. Catherine Wagner—professor of English at Miami University in Ohio

80. Victoria Chang—PEN winner

81. Matthew KlaneYes! Poetry & Performance Series

82. Adam Golaski-Film Forum Press

83. Mathea Harvey—Contributing editor at jubilat and BOMB

84. Amanda Ackerman—UNFO

85. James Tate—Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, 1967

86. Jenny BoullyThe Book of Beginnings and Endings

87. Joyelle McSweeney—professor at Notre Dame

88. William Kulik—the lively prose poem

89. Tamiko Beyer—Raised in Tokyo, lives in Cambridge, MA

90. Julia Bloch-–teaches creative writing at Penn

91. Brent Cunningham—co-founded Hooke Press

92. Richard Wilbur—Won Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1957 & 1989

93. Patrick James DunaganRumpus reviewer

94. Matthew Zapruder—Wave Editor

95. David Kirby—“The Kirb” teaches in Florida, uses humor in poetry

96. Alan Cordle—Foetry.com founder

97. Lyn HejinianThe Book of a Thousand Eyes

98. Cole Swensen—Translates from the French

99. Aaron Kunin—Teaches Milton at Pomona

100. Dana WardThis Can’t Be Life

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

A POEM’S LANGUAGE IS—LANGUAGE

Tony Hoagland: A Quietist.  But always starting trouble!

A Tony Hoagland “mic-grabbing” tantrum (?) at AWP Boston in the  name of accessible poetry against obscure, academic, show-off poetry has proven to be a lightning rod on John Gallaher’s blog, which has been moving slowly for months. Peter Campion, an LA Times poetry critic, locked horns with Hoagland on that AWP panel, and made an appearance on Gallaher’s thread.

Matthew Cooperman, a Poetry MFA professor, joined the conversation and recommended an essay on accessibility by Josh Wilkinson (The Volta).  We visited, mentioning the C.Dale Young APR essay on accessibility Scarriet just reviewed.  The following is our take on the piece by Wilkinson, who cleary belongs to the Inaccessible School—which Hoagland railed against at AWP.

Wilkinson begins by taking exception to Times editor Bill Keller’s, “I prefer craft to spontaneity;” for Wilkinson, this is equivalent to “declawing” poetry and putting it in a “‘zoo.”

The trouble with this sort of rhetoric?  It’s trapped in abstract dualities.  The wag can always retort: “Can’t we have craft and spontaneity?”  The wag  beats vague every time, and the colorful “zoo” metaphor is no help. 

But now Wilkinson moves onto a 3-dimensional reality.  The following by Wilkinson is something we can sink our teeth into:

We are told, again and again, that for poetry to be digestible in a broadly appealing way, apparently it must be poetry paired up with something else. For Natasha Tretheway to be invited to Fresh Air, there must be a pitch; poetry beside a familiar topic. “Poetry plus” is what Marjorie Perloff calls this.

For Tretheway, that means poetry plus her biracialness. Which allows Terry Gross to ask, “What does [Obama’s election] mean to you?” For former poets laureate it is poetry plus the homelessness of a brother (Robert Hass) or poetry plus the death of a parent (W.S. Merwin); and really why should this surprise us? It just exploits the fact that poetry can speak to literally anything. And so long as the host sticks to the topics we are safe with (politics, death, family) then we will avoid having to talk about what animates poetry (the language itself, of course).

Nicely said, but when Wilkinson finishes up with “the language itself, of course,” it should give us pause, since language, as we all know, has both a specific and a uniting purpose, whether or not we speak of “biracialness” on one hand, or whatever non-subject Wilkinson has in mind, on the other.  We would love to see an example at this point in Wilkinson’s essay of a non-subject poem, or hear why “language” is barred from any discussion of a poem when it’s “paired up with something else.”  This is not to say a poem’s subject qua subject is not vitally important, but this is not really what Wilkinson is after; he is hunting “the language itself (of course.)”

We’ve heard this a million times: a poem is not what is said, but how it is said—but this does not mean nothing is said. 

Wilkinson, the poem’s language is—language.  Duh. 

The wag wins, again.

Now Wilkinson mentions the popularity of Billy Collins’ “accessibility,” and asks why we have to “diminish” poetry with “access?”

But isn’t this another abstract duality?  Why does Wilkinson assume that access has to equal diminishment?

We know what Wilkinson is saying, of course: Poetry shouldn’t stoop to the less educated reader, etc. 

But again, isn’t this just another truism which hinges on two vaguely opposing things: the educated enough reader versus the not-educated-enough reader?  If we can’t define these terms better, (how do we know when someone is educated enough?) the rhetoric which uses theses terms is empty.

Our readers probably can see now that we are not disagreeing with Wilkinson here; we cannot disagree with Wilkinson—we are merely indicating in a Socratic manner that his rhetoric is inconsequential.

Wilkinson then mentions how much poetry is available on-line through sites like poetry.com and asks,

Do we really believe that there is some drought of poems that we might call “accessible”?

But we fail to understand what this has to do with anything: Wilkinson doesn’t mention a single one of these poems available on-line, or to what extent these poems are “accessible,” or not.  The root question of accessibility still remains.

We then get a phrase, “immediately familiar,” which Wilkinson uses to defend critics Harold Bloom and Charles Bernstein from the “elitist” charge.  Our differences with these critics have nothing to do with whether they are “elitist” or not, but rather with errors in their judgment, but here’s the issue and we are glad Wilkinson used the phrase “immediately familiar” as a way of defending the inaccessible:

All literary works contain parts (words, chapters, stanzas, lines, etc) and no temporal work of art can be “immediately accessible,” and therefore works can be highly complex, even as each individual part is “immediately familiar.”  It might even be asked: if we do have a highly complex work with many parts, why shouldn’t we ask that each part be “immediately familiar,” to facilitate the ease of understanding the complex work, and wouldn’t the more complex work of the demanding genius be understood better if that same genius created each part fitting spectacularly together  “immediately familiar” in its identity as a part as all of those parts fit subtly into the whole?  What could possibly be gained by making the parts, in this instance, not “immediately familiar?”  And if each individual part is not “immediately familiar,” do they really exist as parts—since the poet, by creating something which is complex, is responsible for every part. (And complexity, of course, cannot exist without parts.)

This is kind of what Billy Collins is quoted as saying later in Wilkinson’s essay—and Wilkinson does concede this one (very crucial) point in favor of accessibility to Collins: “accessibility,” says Collins, is a kind of “Trojan Horse,” a “ruse,” in which he, the poet, Collins, leads the reader towards what might be called the complex and the unfamiliar. 

Speaking of parts, Wilkinson now says in his essay that a poem could be defined by “our inability to reduce it,” which makes us think of classical “unity” and New Criticism (a poem cannot be paraphrased) and all sorts of time-honored things, but as true as the whole experience of anything naturally pre-supposes “our inability to reduce it,” (it meaning our experience of it) we should never forget what we have just outlined above—the parts which must exist in anything which partakes of temporality.  And in addition, “inability to reduce” would also pre-suppose something else: clarity, accessibility: since how else could we perceive that threshold of irreducibility?

More in this vein:

Wilkinson quotes Susan Howe asking “why should things please a large audience,” but this is like asking, why should language be understood?  Obviously things don’t have to please a large audience, but what reason can we give for language not being understood, or for a large audience not understanding a thing?

Wilkinson quotes Wittgenstein: a poem is “not used in the language-game of giving information,” but “giving information” has little, or nothing to do with the accessibility of the poem’s temporal existence itself—even as it naturally flies under the radar of “giving information.”

Towards the end of his essay, Wilkinson refers to the well-known Onion piece, “Distressed Nation Turns to Poet Laureate for Solace, as if the Onion were not making fun of contemporary, inaccessible poetry, but was instead making fun of those who want poetry to be accessible; we think the former is closer to the Onion’s intent, and, similarly, Wilkinson wonders what we “lose” in a defensive response “against” inaccessible poetry, but he doesn’t seem to realize that the question could just as easily be asked the other way: what  do we lose in a defensive response for inaccessible poetry?

And so Wilkinson’s essay entertains—like a dog chasing its own tail.

ANOTHER SCARY SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!

1. Natasha Trethewey   Beautiful! Black! Poet Laureate!
2. Billy Collins  Still sells…
3. David Lehman  Best American Poetry Series chugs along…
4. Stephen Burt  Harvard Cross-dresser takes Vendler’s mantle?
5. William Logan  Most entertaining poetry critic
6. Christian Wiman  He’s the “Poetry” man, he makes me feel alright…
7. Sharon Olds  Sock-in-the-gut, sexy frankness…
8. Tracy K. Smith Young Pulitzer winner
9. David Orr  The New York Times Poetry Critic…
10. Harold Bloom  Not sure on Naomi Wolfe; we know he abused Poe….
11. Matthew Dickman  OMG!  Is he really no. 11?
12. Anne Carson  Professor of Classics born in Toronto…
13. Dana Gioia  Famous essay still resonates & not a bad formalist poet…
14. Jorie Graham Judge not…
15. Rita Dove The Penguin Anthology really wasn’t that good…
16. Helen Vendler Almost 80!
17. John Ashbery Has he ever written a poem for no. 16?  Where’s the love?
18. David Ferry This translator is almost 90!
19. Kevin Young We hear he’s a leading poet of his generation…
20. Robert Pinsky The smartest man in the universe…
21. Cole Swenson  The Hybrid Queen, newly installed at Brown…
22. Marjorie Perloff  “Poetry on the Brink” praises cut-and-paste…
23. John Barr Financial leader of Poetry Foundation and poet worth reading?
24. Seamus Heaney  The inscrutable Irish mountain…
25. Geoffrey Hill  A mountain who is really a hill?
26. Robert Hass  West-coast cheerleader.
27. Stephen Dunn  Athlete, philosopher, poet
28. Laura Kassichke  Championed by Burt.
29. Mary Oliver  The John Clare of today…
30. Kay Ryan  Come on, she’s actually good…
31. Don Share  Riding “Poetry” gravy train…
32. W.S. Merwin  Noble, ecological, bull?
33. Dana Levin Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
34. Susan Wheeler Elliptical Poet.  At Princeton.
35. Tony Hoagland Has the racial controversy faded?
36. Mark Doty Sharon Olds’ little brother…
37. Frank Bidart The Poet as Greek Tragedian
38. Simon Armitage Tilda Swinton narrates his global warming doc
39. D.A. Powell He likes the weather in San Francisco…
40. Philip Levine Second generation Program Era poet
41. Ron Silliman Experimental to the bone, his blog is video central…
42. Mark Strand Plain-talking surrealist, studied painting with Josef Albers…
43. Dan Chiasson Influential poetry reviewer…
44. Al Filreis  On-line professor teaches modern poetry to thousands at once!
45. Paul Muldoon If you want your poem in the New Yorker, this is the guy…
46. Charles Bernstein Difficult, Inc.
47. Rae Armantrout  If John Cage wrote haiku?
48. Louise Gluck Bollingen Prize winner…
49. Ben Mazer 2012 Scarriet March Madness Champ, studied with Heaney, Ricks…
50. Carol Muske-Dukes California Laureate
51. Peter Riley His critical essay crushes the hybrid movement…
52. Lyn Hejinian California Language Poet…
53. Peter Gizzi 12 issues of O.blek made his name…
54. Franz Wright Cantankerous but blessed…
55. Nikky Finney 2011 National Book Award winner 
56. Garrison Keillor Good poems!
57. Camille Paglia  She’s baaaack!
58. Christian Bok Author of Canada’s best-selling poetry book
59. X.J. Kennedy Classy defender of rhyme…
60. Frederick Seidel Wears nice suits…
61. Henri Cole Poems “cannily wrought” –New Yorker
62. Thom Donovan Poetry is Jorie-Graham-like…
63. Marie Howe State Poet of New York

64. Michael Dickman The other twin…
65. Alice Oswald Withdrew from T.S. Eliot prize shortlist…
66. Sherman Alexie Poet/novelist/filmmaker…
67. J.D. McClatchy Anthologist and editor of Yale Review…
68. David Wagoner Edited Poetry Northwest until it went under…
69. Richard Wilbur A versifier’s dream…
70. Stephen Cramer His fifth book is called “Clangings.”
71. Galway Kinnell We scolded him on his poem in the New Yorker critical of Shelley…
72. Jim Behrle Gadfly of the BAP
73. Haruki Murakami The Weird Movement…
74. Tim Seibles Finalist for National Book Award in Poetry
75. Brenda Shaughnessy  Editor at Tin House…
76. Maurice Manning  The new Robert Penn Warren?
77. Eileen Myles We met her on the now-dead Comments feature of Blog Harriet
78. Heather McHugh Studied with Robert Lowell; translator.
79. Juliana Spahr Poetry and sit-ins
80. Alicia Ostriker Poetry makes feminist things happen…
81. William Childress His ‘Is Free Verse Killing Poetry?’ caused a stir…
82. Patricia Smith Legendary Slam Poet…
83. James Tate The Heart-felt Zany Iowa School…
84. Barrett Watten Language Poet Theorist.
85. Elizabeth Alexander Obama’s inaugural poet.
86. Alan Cordle Foetry changed poetry forever.
87. Dean Young Heart transplanted, we wish him the best…
88. Amy Beeder “You’ll never feel full”
89. Valzhyna Mort Franz Wright translated her from the Belarusian…
90. Mary Jo Salter Studied with Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard…
91. Seth Abramson Lawyer/poet who researches MFA programs and writes cheery reviews…
92. Amy Catanzano “My aim is to become incomprehensible to the machines.”
93. Cate Marvin  VIDA co-founder and co-director
94. Jay Wright First African-American to win the Bollingen Prize (2005)
95. Albert Jack His “Dreadful Demise Of Edgar Allan Poe” builds on Scarriet’s research: Poe’s cousin may be guilty…
96. Mary Ruefle “I remember, I remember”
97. John Gallaher Selfless poet/songwriter/teacher/blogger
98. Philip Nikolayev From Fulcrum to Battersea…
99. Marcus Bales Democratic Activist and Verse Poet
100. Joe Green And Hilarity Ensued…

IS MARJORIE PERLOFF SOMEONE’S CRAZY AUNT?

Perloff: Keep your status quo away from my avant-garde!

The distinguished professor and critic, Marjorie Perloff, recently published an essay, “Poetry on the Brink,” which has made quite an impression in the poetry world.

In a nutshell: what Perloff essentially did is join Helen Vendler, another academic, non-poet, lady-critic, in attacking the poet (and professor) Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry.

Avant-garde empathizer Perloff has merely broadened Vendler’s attack to smite “a certain kind of prize-winning, New Yorker, well-crafted poem,” featuring “irregular lines of free verse,” “prose syntax,” and a “lyric speaker” which uses the following tri-formula: “present time stimulus—memory—epiphany.”

The poetry world used to be so happy: the free verse Iowa Workshop poem united everyone: the Perloffs, the Doves, the Vendlers, the English Departments, the little magazines, the big magazines, the Workshops, the Jorie Grahams, the John Ashberys, the Harold Blooms…they all felt good together!

The Norton Anthology began with Beowulf and strode through Shakespeare and Keats and then…High Modernism—which turned its back on the Victorians—and the canon now consisted of young, clever, prosaic unknowns… the literary canon was just a Iowa Workshop course away…for you—with your immigrant grandmother—and you, homosexual wise ass…and even… you!  Excitement  was in the air!  Anything was possible!  Poetry was difficult…oh yes…but not that difficult.  Doors were opening…there was a party going on…

But that’s all turned sour, because the Poetry Workshop business has turned out too many poets and as the years party on, the canon has simply eluded too many deserving hopefuls—the party atmosphere of the insular poetry world has been replaced by Malthusian gloom.

So Perloff opens her essay by taking poetry’s universal unease by the horns, asking, “What happens to poetry when everybody is a poet?”

We don’t know if the queen has ever wondered, “what happens when everyone lives in a castle?”  Or, “What happens when everyone has a diamond ring as big as mine?”  Perhaps these are real concerns.  We don’t know.

Perloff, however is thinking a little more in the realm of “If everyone is happily married, what will happen to the thrill and danger of amour?”  If everyone is happy, won’t life become boring? For Perloff quotes Jed Rasula opining on the number of creative writing faculty in poetry (20,000) and then remarks, “What makes Rasula’s cautionary tale so sobering is that the sheer number of poets now plying their craft inevitably ensures moderation and safety.”

We suppose one can accept her logic that more human interaction tends to be a force of “moderation” and that popularity naturally creates that swelling middle zone of creatures who adhere to a popular center which is “safe.”  Let’s grant her this “safety” observation, for isn’t that how civilization works?  Sheer numbers of citizens diligently “plying their craft” does create “safety.”  The life of the explorer inevitably features fewer people experiencing more danger.

Perloff is also kind enough to tell us exactly what this “craft” of “safety” looks like today: “free verse” with “prose syntax,” “prepositional and parenthetical phrases,” “graphic imagery,” “extravagant metaphor,” a “lyric speaker,” “epiphany,” a “particular memory,” a “profound thought or insight”, and “large or personal tragedy”.

Perloff also lays out precisely the material history for us.

The current “safe” poem, she says, is found in most prize-winning poetry collections today, in The New Yorker, and in post-1970 poems found in Rita Dove’s Penguin anthology—and she gives a couple of examples from Dove’s anthology.

The early 20th century canon of Frost, Stein, Pound, Crane, Eliot, Stevens, L. Hughes, Williams, Moore which is found in the Dove, Perloff is basically happy with. No argument there.

Perloff finds “cheerful pluralism” and “noisy critical debate” existing up through the early 1960’s when “raw v. cooked” was in the air—and she finds this “raw” mostly ignored in Dove’s book—Perloff gives us a list of those left out: “black experimental poets;” “the Objectivists, Zukofsky, Oppen, Reznikoff, Rakosi, Niedecker;” and “Rexroth and Spicer.”

For Perloff, something went terribly wrong in American poetry after the “raw v. cooked poetry wars” subsided—the marker might be the death of O’Hara in 1966, we’re not sure, but Perloff frankly writes:

Today’s poetry establishment—Robert Pinsky and Robert Hass, Louise Glück and Mark Strand, all of them former poets laureate—command a polite respect but hardly the enthusiasm and excitement that greeted and continue to greet such counterparts of the previous generation as O’Hara.

Again, let’s give Perloff the benefit of the doubt and assume O’Hara is “exciting” and Hass is not.  O’Hara would probably make a more lively guest on Leno or Letterman; O’Hara was a ‘scenester’ and his poetry conveys that—we suppose this is what Perloff is getting at, but we’re not sure.

Perloff laces into Dove’s introduction to Dove’s Penguin anthology with great vitriol, essentially calling it brain-dead. Perloff calls Dove’s prose in the introduction to that which might be found in a “Victorian children’s book,” the worst thing a member of the avant-garde could possibly say about anything.  But in this part of the essay, about a third of the way through, in her white hot attack on Dove (which seems to us was the trigger for Perloff’s essay in the first place, perhaps after a late night conversation with Helen Vendler) hubris catches up with Perloff, and like Icarus flying to close to the sun, Perloff all at once drops like a rock into the sea, her well-meaning and well-supported argument collapsing with a great whoooosh!

Like some conceptualist poems she admires, Perloff keeps talking in the rest of the essay—but to no effect.  It’s rather how conceptualist poems turn out: nice idea, but execution therefrom, crap.  Such poems, and their poets, are incapable of sustaining real interest.  Their wanna-be affectation is merely annoying.

Let’s summarize Perloff’s collapse:

She condemns the late 20th century, New Yorker, Dove Penguin anthology, poetry contest winning, contemporary free verse lyric—but this lyric of memory, epiphany, etc  has always existed, in “Since There’s No Help, Come, Let Us Kiss And Part” or “Dover Beach”—but now without rhyme and meter.  And here’s a perfect example, from her adored O’Hara:

At Joan’s

It is almost three
I sit at the marble top
sorting poems, miserable
the little lamp glows feebly
I don’t glow at all

I have another cognac
and stare at two little paintings
of Jean-Paul’s, so great
I must do so much
or did they just happen

the breeze is cool
barely a sound filters up
through my confused eyes
I am lonely for myself
I can’t find a real poem

if it won’t happen to me
what shall I do

How simple to hoist Perloff with her own petard, quoting from her own admired specimens!  It seems O’Hara was sinning, too.  There’s that first person, lyric “I,” recollecting/reflecting towards an epiphany.  Or Niedecker, whose exclusion from the Dove Perloff mourned:

What horror to awake at night
and in the dimness see the light.
Time is white
mosquitoes bite
I’ve spent my life on nothing.

The thought that stings. How are you, Nothing,
sitting around with Something’s wife.
Buzz and burn
is all I learn
I’ve spent my life on nothing.

I’ve pillowed and padded, pale and puffing
lifting household stuffing—
carpets, dishes
benches, fishes
I’ve spent my life in nothing.

This one even rhymes.  And it could have been written in 1822 by John Clare!

The ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ argument bedevils critics like Perloff—she is always looking for genuine examples of “time and place” in poetry; this is the cudgel highbrows always bring down on the heads of those who have mere “likes and dislikes,” as Dove, quoted by Perloff, admits she has in her Penguin anthology introduction.  But the silly modernist avant-garde critics are forever hemmed in by the absurdity of their claims, claims which must be intimately tied to the purity of “time and place.”  When it is pointed out, over and over, how their sacred cows are all over the map in terms of “time and place,” they can only meekly reply that O’Hara’s use of a centuries-old, “I” centered, lyric is yet modern on account of it being so trivial.  Categories of “time and place” are so important to the Modernist that soon they become everything, even as those categories were dubious to start with.  Instead of asking, what are the elements necessary for the realized poem? they seek to create categories out of the poems written in Brooklyn by a Jewish immigrant in 1930.  This makes our avant-garde critic a poetry scholar, and makes them naturally and vehemently opposed to the question: what is a good poem?  The more scholarly they become, the more naturally opposed they become to even considering what could possibly distinguish a good poem from a bad one.  They are too busy delineating the facts of “time and place.”  There happen, in this instance, to be two poets—one wrote beautiful poems, the other wrote awful poems—but because the critic was alive to the latter as composed by a Jewish immigrant living in Brooklyn in 1930, the latter Jewish Brooklynite is selected as relevant, and the former Jewish Brooklynite is ignored.  Let this error become established scholarly behavior and you see what kind of damage it does to poetry.

Perloff condemns Dove’s selection of Trethewey’s “Hot Combs” because to Perloff it sounds like a poem from the “60s or 70s,” and yet, to Perloff’s horror, it was published in 2000.”  What to make of Perloff’s hero, O’Hara, then, who writes poems on the  model of “Dover Beach” (just in free verse)?  O’Hara is at least a century out of date!  In O’Hara’s case, what superficialities of “time and place” (and other considerations) is Perloff surrendering to?  The lyric, as essentially described by Perloff, is very, very old.  Is Perloff questioning it today because it was written by someone in the 1960s?  It was written by Sappho!

Perloff does do us the honor of showing us, in some detail, what she feels is worthy poetry: conceptual poetry, or cut-and-paste poetry.  Perloff fails to mention—unbelievably—that T.S. Eliot did this in 1922 with his “Waste Land.”  The “appropriation” of 1960s visual arts and music is her focus, but why she ignores Eliot is very odd, indeed.

As for cut-and-paste, one wag (Eugene #25) put it this way on the comments thread to Perloff’s article: “Poetry is too uniform, therefore poets should copy existing material.”

The comments thread (that tool of democracy banned by Blog Harriet and Ron Silliman’s blog) is a feast of witty and sobering reaction.

We took the title of this Scarriet piece from comment #64 by jrand, who goes on to write: “…anybody can cut and paste—why would that have any validity, whether characterizing Waldheim, or making fun of Perloff?”

The “characterizing Waldheim” refers to a work praised by Perloff, in which someone (a poet?) took the memoirs of a nation’s leader and removed words to make that leader look stupid and evil.  Maybe Kurt Waldheim was a really bad guy, but is this trickery a virtuous method of “composition?”  Perloff is so obsessed with “time and place”—1930s! Austria! Everyone’s a Nazi! that it’s all she sees.  Perloff’s hatred of Dove’s anthology resembles her apparent hatred of the Austrians: Perloff explicitly mourns the fact that after 1945, Austria became a “prosperous nation”—as if Perloff believes all Austrians ought to be punished forever.  Perloff’s admiration of a meddled-with memoir passed off as poetry is apparently based on irrational, political hatred rather than on any aesthetic (or moral) principles. Why would Perloff see fit to mention that Austria, after 1945, became a “prosperous nation”?  When the Vietnam war ended, why would anyone wish that either the U.S. or Vietnam not become “prosperous”? Why should we ever wish for a country—more importantly, its people, its women and its children, not to become “prosperous”?  How could we ever be against an entire nation’s prosperity?  Because of Hitler, the whole nation of Austria, after 1945, should not be allowed to prosper? Hitler came to power precisely because of a lack of prosperity. What sort of mind would wish for a whole nation during peacetime not to prosper?

But no doubt Perloff felt compelled to drag forth the Waldheim poem because she really had so little to recommend her prized Language Poetry against the Dove lyric.

Perloff manages to come up with only three bullet points in favor of her kind of poetry: “ellipsis,” “indirection” and “political engagement.”

This is weak, since “ellipsis” and “indirection” characterize High Modernism, if not works farther back in time—so how can these be claimed as defining categories by the Language Poets?  Neither can “political engagement” ever be seen to belong only to Language Poetry, or the sorts of avant-garde works Perloff admires.

“Political engagement” certainly does not characterize Perloff’s other examples of contemporary, cut-and-paste excellence in her essay: Susan Howe’s collage on her husband’s death; Peter Gizzi’s little poem (“In broad dazed light”) to which Perloff felt compelled to pad her commentary with Victorian-era biographical information on Gizzi; the “Buddhist abnegation” of John Cage’s cutting of “Howl,” a miserable little thing (which she absurdly claims is “musical!”) which nevertheless cannot be transposed into prose, thus passing, in its “abnegation,” the crucial Perloff litmus test for great poetry(??); or, finally, Charles Bernstein’s boring send-up of the ballad form, “All the Whiskey in Heaven.”  So Perloff had to come up with one example, at least, of “political engagment,’ and she picked a doozy—one that bespoke Perloff’s hatred of all Austrians (!!).

Perloff is to be congratulated for laying out her avant-garde politics and her avant-garde aesthetics in such detail.  She really pulled out all the stops, and this may be her last avant-garde hurrah, and the last hurrah for sickly Language Poetry, who knows?  In this essay she throws around terms like “Joycean” and “verbivocovisual.” She cheerfully quotes Kenneth Goldsmith’s urge for “uncreative writing”—all to Seth Abramson’s dismay, no doubt.

Perloff has done a great service to the world of poetry—for the backlash to her article will certainly dwarf its intended effect: to establish, once and for all, the worthiness of that experimental/political avant-garde poem for which no one presently gives a damn—except a few tweedy professors—and to push it out into the glorious mainsteam, where the good, the bad, the mean, the friendly, the evil and the weak, all prosper.

WALCOTT V. TRETHEWEY IN MIDWEST/SOUTH BATTLE FOR SWEET 16

Derek Walcott: How major is he?

Derek Walcott has 8 full pages in Rita Dove’s anthology, and a Nobel Prize.  Walcott’s pen sees the whole world, the colonized and the colonizers; he rhymes with a wide pen, almost as if he were  pre-classical on a rocky island; but we also get the post-Romantic, fully modern in the crying city.  Walcott comes close to putting all the elements together not just of a major poet of our time, but a major poet for all time.  Perhaps only time will tell.  We feel the elements are there: sound, image, vastness, vision, but it rarely comes together; each realized poem has its own humble shape and purpose, and large elements only partially help.  Walcott lacks the warmth and passion of a Tennyson, for instance, the gleaming finish of a Poe, the exquisite playfullness of a Byron or a Burns, the force of a Homer, the acrobatics of a Pope, the haunting uncanniness of a Dickinson, but one almost feels that Walcott could be any of these things.

In a contest like March Madness, only the brief poem’s individual moment advances against the competition—a major poet is only as strong as the weakest part of some anthologized lyric.  The following by Walcott was reprinted by Dove:

A FAR CRY FROM AFRICA

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa, Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
‘Waste no compassion on these separate dead!’
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?

Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilizations dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?

Does this work? 

We do not think it does. 

What can the reader possibly feel about, “How can I face such slaughter and be cool?”  This is for the passionate podium, not the poem. 

This is not to say this issue is not large and important, but the poet is diminishing it by turning it into explicitly helpless and hopeless rhetoric.

“How choose?” the English-speaking poet asks, but this sounds dangerously close to self-pity.    It seems he is saying “I hate some who speak English, and I speak English, so what am I to do?” and this may be interesting. but the self-pitying dilemma, as he is putting it, is not interesting.

Lines like “The gorilla wrestles with the superman” take us out of the poem.  If Walcott is trying to be like Yeats, he should know that Yeats confines himself in his short poems to a single subject or image; one cannot simply say out of the blue: “The gorilla wrestles with the superman” in a poem filled with all sorts of other things.  The rhetoric of the paragraph-by-paragraph essay is not fit for the rhetoric of the line-by-line poem, and this law operates whether you are rhyming or not.  Or whether you have a Nobel prize, or not.

Natasha Trethewey has three poems in Dove’s anthology, and this is one of them:

HOT COMBS

At the junk shop, I find an old pair,
black with grease, the teeth still pungent
as burning hair.  One is small,
fine toothed as if for a child. Holding it,
I think of my mother’s slender wrist,
the curve of her neck as she leaned
over the stove, her eyes shut as she pulled
the wooden handle and laid flat the wisps
at her temples. The heat in our kitchen
made her glow that morning I watched her
wincing, the hot comb singeing her brow,
sweat glistening above her lips,
her face made strangely beautiful
as only suffering can do.

The equation of “strangely beautiful” with “suffering” is interesting, but we don’t know if it rises to a truth, unless we use “strangely beautiful” to mean anything we like.

Whereas Walcott’s poem fails in its large scope, Trethewey’s can’t help but feel somewhat small by comparison.

We’re afraid Trethewey’s short lyric is not enough to overcome the flawed poem of a Nobel winner.

Walcott 67, Trethewey 58

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 32 POETS MOVING ON!

Enrique Simonet’s “Judgement of Paris”

They fought, they battled, they elbowed, they rebounded, they shot, they sweated, they passed, they jumped, they fell into seats trying to save a ball going out-of-bounds.  You know what they did.   Here’s the winners and their margins of victory:

East:

Ben Mazer (d. Ashbery 102-101, 3 OT)
Seamus Heaney (d. Carolyn Forche 65-61)
Franz Wright (d. Geoffrey Hill 58-42)
Billy Collins (d. Carol Ann Duffy 90-77)
Marie Howe (d. Jorie Graham 63-60)
Robert Pinsky (d. Charles Bernstein 80-47)
Mary Oliver (d. Charles Simic 67-53)
James Tate (d. Paul Muldoon 71-51)

Summary:  The beasts are in the East: Collins, Heaney, Pinsky, Oliver, Tate, Franz Wright, plus the upstart Ben Mazer, who has an aura of invincibility after knocking off Ashbery in triple overtime—but only one can survive to enter the Final Four!

South/Midwest:

Yusef Komunyakaa (d. A.E. Stallings 81-75)
Derek Walcott (d. C.D. Wright 91-47)
Patricia Smith (d. Mark Doty 80-69)
Rita Dove (d. Sandra Cisneros 64-60)
W.S. Merwin (d. Kevin Young 78-72)
Elizabeth Alexander (d. Carl Phillips 79-76)
Natasha Trethewey (d. Andrew Hudgins 69-68)
Terrance Hayes (d. Charles Wright 67-54)

Summary: the veteran Merwin is the only white poet to move on in this brackett.  Walcott is the Nobel Prize Winner, Patricia Smith, the Slam wild card, and Rita Dove, the Anthology editor.

North:

Philip Levine (d. Joanna Klink 88-67)
Richard Wilbur (d. Anne Waldman 101-70)
Dana Gioia (d. Brenda Shaughnessy 78-66)
Margaret Atwood (d. Bin Ramke 70-68)
Stephen Dunn (d. Glyn Maxwell 89-83)
Louise Gluck (d. Peter Gizzi 67-62)
Alice Oswald (d. Frank Bidart 55-54)
Cornelius Eady (d. Mark Strand 65-59)

Summary: Old school Richard Wilbur has to be the one to watch, after his dismantling of Waldman; also favored, the highly accessible Atwood, plus the imposing Dunn and Levine.

West:

Robert Hass (d. Cathy Song 67-63)
Sharon Olds (d. Li-Young Lee 79-77)
Gary Snyder (d. Sherman Alexie 80-72)
Heather McHugh (d. Rae Armantrout 66-54)
Kay Ryan (d. Cole Swensen 90-59)
Gary Soto (d. Ron Silliman 81-60)
Marilyn Chin (d. Michael Dickman 90-78)
Matthew Dickman (d. Joy Harjo 88-67)

Summary: Kay Ryan and Sharon Olds are strong women in this brackett; Gary Snyder has the savvy and experience to go all the way, and don’t count out young Dickman.

The raw numbers: 44% of the 32 poets still in the hunt are white males, and  41% are women.

The third annual Scarriet March Madness Tournament is using a different rule this year: winning poets bring a new poem with them into the next round.

Previously, Lehman’s  Best American Poetry, and Stephen Berg’s American Poetry Review were Scarriet sources; this year it is Dove’s 20th Century Poetry anthology (Penguin), with some exceptions (mostly British), and all living poets.

ANDREW HUDGINS AND NATASHA TRETHEWEY KEEP THE ACTION GOING!

Trethewey, a professor at Emory, invited to the dance as a 10th seed

Natasha Trethewey, born in Mississippi, has 3 poems in the Dove anthology, and won a Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 2006 at the tender age of 39.

Race figures large in Dove’s collection, and Trethewey’s “Flounder” is no exception:

Here, she said, put this on your head.
She handed me a hat.
you ’bout as white as your dad,
and you gone stay like that.

Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down
around each bony ankle,
and I rolled down my white knee socks
letting my thin legs dangle,

circling them just above water
and silver backs of minnows
flitting here then there between
the sun spots and the shadows.

This is how you hold the pole
to cast the line out straight.
Now put that worm on your hook,
throw it out and wait.

She sat spitting tobacco juice
into a coffee cup.
Hunkered down when she felt the bite,
jerked the pole straight up

reeling and tugging hard at the fish
that wriggled and tried to fight back.
A flounder, she said, and you can tell
’cause one of its sides is black.

The other is white, she said.
It landed with a thump.
I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,
switch sides with every jump.

Trethewey relies on the metaphor of the flip-flopping flounder to tell the reader something about how she feels being a mixed race person, and the subject is also introduced by her black Aunt Sugar in conversation.  The scene is nicely done, the poem is easy to understand, and what exactly the metaphor is conveying does not have to be understood, since the raw fact of  physical type is always a mystery.  Flounders are much stranger to us for their shape than their color, but never mind: the tyranny of the metaphor gets its way.  The flounder serves its purpose.  The parts of the poem are not integrated, but how could they be?  How can a sequence of random events, “rolled her nylons down,” “spitting tobacco juice,” “jerked the pole straight up,” “tried to fight back,” have anything to do with I am half-black?  It can’t.  Poetic unity is lost because the poem apes fiction.  

The poem might said to be successful, anyway: the child in Trethewey’s poem recognizes: I’m this and then I’m that; I’m not one person, but two.  Which is tragic, for no one wants to be divided, and the poem imparts this knowledge nicely.  Kudos to Ms. Trethewey.  And if photographs of the poet are any indication, two races mingle very nicely in her person.

Andrew Hudgins, no.7 seed in the Midwest/South, has a couple of poems in Dove’s anthology; he is her age, and like her, attended the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.  His poems are plain-speaking, but there’s an urgency to them:

We Were Simply Talking

We were simply talking, probably work, or relatives
or even Christmas presents, when the car slid
and I corrected, fishtailed and I corrected, then we were gone,
sliding sideways into the grill of a diesel tractor, also sliding,
and in that instant I was ready to die.
I saw my wife and was overjoyed that I had married her,
though our marriage was already falling apart,
and I loved the car, a brown Toyota, loved
being warm in the car while it was white, cold, bitter
out in the world we’d lost control of. I loved
every molecule of breath I wasn’t taking,
and for the moment I forgave myself every sin
and failure of my life, including this
ridiculous and undignified early death.
The car snapped backward into a frozen ditch.
I sat speechless, shaking, my wife speechless also,
and a man pulled up, a salesman: You folks okay?
Suddenly the radio roared, and by the car
a dog barked wildly and, yes, we were fine.
Fine. We were fine. But what was “fine,” I wondered,
and why do we always, always have to speak?

There’s no metaphor in this poem that sticks out, saying, ‘Look at me!  Do you understand my equivalence?’

Hudgins’ poem is simply an explanation of an event, and then that odd question at the end, “why do we always, always have to speak?” and one intuits that the poet’s marriage is “falling apart” because of speech, and because of ordinary life which calls for speech, etc and that here is this moment experienced with his wife which he wants to keep pure—he doesn’t want to say, “We’re fine” to a stranger.  And this is all said without really saying it, and that gives the poem, and its last line, its power.

Hudgins’ poem doesn’t signal what its saying, but Trethewey’s does, but then the ‘whole room’ knows what Trethewey is doing; one cannot believe everybody in the room would understand the Hudgins.  Who, Trethewey or Hudgins, has done the more artistic thing, and done it more cleverly?  One cannot help but feel that for every person moved by the Hudgins, another would say, “Speak? Of course we have to speak, silly!”  And for every person moved by Trethewey’s metaphor, another would feel, “Oh, it’s just too obvious!”

Trethewey 69, Hudgins 68

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