THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET PLAYS FOR SWEET SIXTEEN

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To say, with Edgar Poe, that poetry should be beautiful, is the most rigorous, scientific thing one can say about poetry.

Why is the idea misunderstood, dismissed, or even ridiculed, then?

Because the talkers stop talking when beauty enters the room.

Poetry wants nothing to do with beauty, we think, because beauty is an argument without words.

It is not the beauty poetry rejects, it is the wordless way beauty makes itself felt, which is the poetic problem.

Or so most poets think.

Beauty, it is true, is not poetry—but poetry can imitate beauty, which makes them the same, since all art is first and foremost, imitation.

Beauty does not mean merely “pretty.”

Beauty’s ability to argue without words is a faculty no poet should be without—because what is a poet most of all?

A poet is swift—they use far less words to make an impression than writers of prose.

Poetry, then, imitates beauty’s ability to make its point instantaneously.

In the time it takes to read a single line of poetry, we could never say we have taken the time to read a novel, an essay, or a short story.

But if in that brief moment in which we read that line of poetry, we feel we are reading poetry, then we are reading poetry, and beauty has been the midwife to the poetry—and, if we don’t feel we are reading poetry, hasn’t the poetry failed already, since poetry (like beauty) should be recognized immediately? And if the first line doesn’t seem to be poetry, what of the second line?  And should we really be waiting around for the poetry? Isn’t the whole point to be poetry right away?  Otherwise we might as well say we are writing a short story or an essay.  An essay needs time to argue, to explain.  And poetry, because it is poetry, does not.

It is not precisely beauty which poetry invokes—it is the swiftness in which something is communicated, and that something exists in a mysterious sweet spot between argument, which needs time, and beauty, which does not—and this is what poetry is, and how it comes closest to being beautiful, in fact.

March Madness contests require time. But quickness will triumph. Upsets are few where there is one factor—a towering center, a diminutive guard; it makes no difference, for quick on the ball, quick to defend, quick to shoot, quick to rebound, quick to pass, quick to get in position, is all. There is no division of labor. The blur of intention and action is the essence of physical sport. Poetry is almost the same.

Poetry conveys image, idea, feeling, originality, and rhythm in as few words as possible. This wins. Beauty of the eye? No poem can compete. Argument of the mind? No poem can compete, or would compete, since the rationale of poetry is different—it invokes what we think is beauty, what we think is argument, but which is actually a hybrid blur of the two.

Mobile, graceful, accurate, and swift is a summation of all we describe as the beautiful, either ideally in the mind or materially in nature. The excellence of which the poem is the owner is excellent in ratio to how quickly the reader grasps it.

With this in mind, we proceed to the matchups themselves:

Mary Angela Douglas “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

This is a great example of irresistible swiftness. This is not 30% poetry and 70% prose, as most poems are, but 100% poetry: “one. candle. grown. lilac. in. a. perpetual. spring.”

Sharanya Manivannan “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

This is not quite as pure—the action is less focused, specific, forceful.

Mary Angela Douglas advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

Ann Leshy Wood “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

We may think we are seeing what Ann Leshy Wood has “painted,” but the aural quality is in fact fooling the eye into thinking it perceives beauty—the “o” sound is doing all the work: “groves, oranges, rot, somber, heron.” Just as poetry is a mysterious hybrid of argument and beauty, so the best poetry entices our eyes with its sound.

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

This is splendid. And why? It is simple and repetitive. Why is this better than a million far more detailed paragraphs? For the reasons we have just outlined. This is like a jump shot looking exactly the same three times in a row with the shooter hitting all three shots. No sports fan could want anything more.

Jennifer Robertson has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

Medha Singh “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

This is one of the most remarkable poetic utterances a poet ever thought to make. “You’ve,” a rather clumsy-sounding word lumbers out of the starting gate, and “remembered,” another slow and awkward word embraces it—the fat ground is prepared; we have almost a novel already—swift, but slow. The phrase “you’ve remembered” has the weight of someone else’s memory thrown back onto, and into, the past—not “you remember” or “I’ve remembered,” but “you’ve remembered.” The next phrase, “how the winter went” continues the funereal rhythm of the trochaic, HOW the/ WIN-ter /WENT as / and introduces winter (a funereal season) as “how it went,” which introduces memory’s movement into the remembering—which is then repeated: “it went on, so we have “went” repeated, the “w” sound mingling with the “w” of winter, overwhelming the memory with remembering how winter “went on” (continued and continued) even as it “went”!!

C.P. Surendran — “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

This is also a remarkable group of lines, but compared to Medha Singh’s lines, which have the heft of a 19th century Russian novel, this is only an extremely clever description of a train coming out of a tunnel. “Window by window regained vision” is a brilliant way to cap “a train, blindfolded by a tunnel.”

The winner: Medha Singh. She’s going to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

Sushmita Gupta “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

There is nothing here which is not morally ingenious. All great art requires not only the moral, but the morally ingenious. The complaint is not shy: “Everything hurts.” Too often even the great love poets complain of a heart that aches, but Sushmita Gupta knows love the best:”Everything hurts.”

She then moves quickly from heavy complaint to winged, ironic wit: “even that which seems like love.”  And after the heavy (“everything hurts”) and the light (“even that which seems like”) the balance of both is exemplified by the last word: “love.” It is a dazzling, yet a sober and sad and wise performance. “Love” and “seems” never seemed so attractive and hateful at the same time.

Raena Shirali “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

There is transformation and action in Reana Shirali’s two short lines, enough for an entire Greek or Roman or Hindu myth.  The excitement is memorable, but it is more like an action movie than a performance which is morally ingenious.

Sushmita Gupta wins. Welcome to the Sweet Sixteen!

****

 

BEAUTIFUL BRACKET—THE END OF ROUND ONE

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Sushmita Gupta is the sixth seed in the Beautiful Bracket:

“Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

The artist turns pain into beauty, and this transformation makes it possible to live.

Art has a life of its own, whether we are happy, or not. The poet’s poems are personal, but to us, they are just poems—which don’t care about us.  Why should they?  They are just poems, and true audiences exist only when the readers don’t know the poets personally.

There is nothing we can say about poems. The poem is the “saying” itself.  A poem is not a friend telling us something; so why do we care at all when Sushmita Gupta expresses hurt?

We (audiences) don’t. We (audiences) only care about the beauty of the poem. We (audiences) only care when someone is able to transform pain into beauty. This is the miracle.

Does this mean that we are perfectly heartless when we admire poems?

Yes.

Because obviously, people are moved to sympathy and pity by each other—imagine if this were only possible with the help of poems. Then we would be in real trouble.

So, yes, we are heartless when we admire the sentimental beauty of poems.

“Sentimental beauty.”  Endowing beauty with sentiment and sentiment with beauty is the cool, impersonal work of poems.

To overcome sorrow as either a poet or a person, we can have nothing to do with sorrow, and not feeling sorrow, we cannot feel pity, and so yes, poems and poets have no heart, and neither does beauty, and this instructs us as individuals to be strong, and not weak.

Art is the public expression of individual resourcefulness. Beauty and sentiment, which are opposites, are forced by art to be one.

Sushmita Gupta’s opponent is Dimitry Melnikoff, whose beautiful line is:

“Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

Beauty loves the uncanny and the uncanny loves the beautiful. When we sense this beauty is inevitable—that this beauty had to be beautiful in this way only—it produces the effect of the uncanny.  The ‘o’ sounds of “Offer” and “glow” and the ‘g’ sounds of “gulp” and “glow” make the visual and the action of the line feel inevitable, and so the beauty of the line feels uncanny—which is better than beauty alone.

The Scarriet March Madness arena is swaying with small globes of light.

The rhythm of “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love” finds the pain, the “minor” chord, of the dactlyic/trochaic, EV-‘ry-thing/ HURTS, ev-/ giving way to the more hopeful, “major key” iambic, -en THAT/which SEEMS/like LOVE.

The entire sequence turns on “seems,” for what seems to hurt, hurts; seeming has to do with the senses; but also “seems” implies a mistake; so there is a hidden optimism: “love” which only “seems,” hurts, but what if love were true, and not seeming? Perhaps then the hurt of everything will be transcended. A lesser poet would not have put the stress on SEEMS; Sushmita makes sure the rhythm and the (hidden) meaning work as one.

Sushmita Gupta wins.

****

How would William Shakespeare do in this tournament?  Let’s find out.  The Fragment Handicap is a challenge to all.  Can we feel Shakespeare’s greatness in brief?

“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

No matter how great the poet, they are only allowed one volley, one swipe at the ball, and the opponent gets to hit it briefly back.  The volley is not a 150-mile-per-hour shot, but a few words.

C.P. Surendran tackles the pearls with this:

“A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

Both Shakespeare and Surendran picture blindness in a beautiful way: Eyes as pearls.  A train in a tunnel—window by window—regaining sight.

If poetry is finally speech, Shakespeare is a great lesson. In this instance, the odd, “Those were pearls that were his eyes,” still sounds like something someone would say.

“A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision,” not so much.

But must a poem sound like speech? Surely that is open for debate, but I have a feeling it helps.

The division between reading a line of verse, and hearing it spoken by a person, must give us pause.

Reading poetry is much like a train going over a track.

What is a train’s vision? How does a train see, window by window? There is a sweet, teasing, entrancement in contemplating this.

It’s really impossible the immortal Shakespeare would lose, isn’t it?

The crowd goes wild.

C.P. Surendran has won!

****

And now the final contest in the First Round.

A.E. Housman, who published in the late 19th century, but died in 1936—not that long ago—often contemplates grief in the English countryside, and when the British Empire encircled the world from icy sea to tropical pool, it was from their own meadows and garden plots English poetry most sweetly poured. Soldiers left Britain and conquered, but when the poets left Britain they died. As a proud and strict professor of Latin, Housman was said to bring women to tears with his scolding manner. He also had trouble remembering their names. It is said he made frequent trips to France, because they had dirty books which were banned in Britain.  Housman’s tournament entry:

“The rose-lipped girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

In poetry, one can never go wrong by repetition: the rose-lipped girls…where roses fade.

Raena Shirali is not as famous as Housman, but google will yet tell you a thing, or two. Her book of poems, GILT, has been widely reviewed, and the Chicago Review of Books says, “Shirali, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has written a collection that dissects experiences against a white Southern background and begs the question: “What does America demand of my brown body?”

In her battle with Housman, she is quicker, by far:

“we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

There isn’t the music of “The rose-lipped girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

In Housman’s time, there were heavy leather books of poems in every home, and quotation books with iambic lines on roses.

Shelley died with a book by Keats in his pocket.

Today, poets carry an electronic universe.

“we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

Raena Shirali, nearly invisible, in a close game, wins.

****

Here are the 32 winners of Round One

The Bold Bracket

Diane Lockward (d. Aaron Poochigian)

Aseem Sundan (d. Hoshang Merchant)

Linda Ashok (d. Menka Shivdasani)

Edgar Poe (d. John Milton)

Daipayan Nair (d. Philip Larkin)

Eliana Vanessa (d. Joie Bose)

Robin Richardson (d. Robin Morgan)

Khalypso (d. Walter Savage Landor)

**

The Mysterious Bracket

Jennifer Barber (d. Sophia Naz)

Srividya Sivakumar (d. Percy Shelley)

Aakriti Kuntal (d. A.E. Stallings)

Merryn Juliette (d. Ranjit Hoskote)

Michelina Di Martino (d. Meera Nair)

Kushal Poddar (d. Sukrita Kumar)

Nabina Das (d. Ben Mazer)

Sridala Swami (d. Richard Wilbur)

**

The Life Bracket

William Logan (d. Garrison Keillor)

Danez Smith (d. Akhil Katyal)

Divya Guha (d. Semeen Ali)

N Ravi Shankar (d. Lily Swarn)

Kim Gek Lin Short (d. Rupi Kaur)

Alec Solomita (d. June Gehringer)

Stephen Cole (d. Marilyn Chin)

Sam Sax (d. Dylan Thomas)

**

The Beautiful Bracket

Mary Angela Douglas (d. Abhijit Khandkar)

Ann Leshy Wood (d. Ravi Shankar)

Medha Singh (d. Philip Nikolayev)

Sharanya Manivannan (d. Yana Djin)

Jennifer Robertson (d. John Keats)

Sushmita Gupta (d. Dimitry Melnikoff)

C.P Surendran (d. William Shakespeare)

Raena Shirali (d. A.E. Housman)

****

 

 

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

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It’s here once again.  Poetry March Madness!!

Previously, Scarriet has used Best American Poetry Series poems, Speeches by Aesthetic Philosophers, and poems of, and inspired by, Romanticism

This year, our tenth!—and we’ve done this once before—lines of poetry compete. 

The great majority of these poets are living contemporaries, but we have thrown in some of the famous dead, just to mix things up.

The line is the unit of poetry for ancients and moderns alike—moderns have argued for other units: the sentence, the breath—but to keep it simple, here we have fragments, or parts, of poems.

Is the poem better when the poetic dwells in all parts, as well as the whole?  I don’t see how we could say otherwise.

What makes part of a poem good?

Is it the same qualities which makes the whole poem good?

A poem’s excellent and consistent rhythm, by necessity, makes itself felt both throughout the poem and in its parts.

A poem’s excellent rhetoric can be strong as a whole, but weaker in its parts—since the whole understanding is not necessarily seen in pieces.

This is why, perhaps, the older, formalist poets, are better in their quotations and fragments than poets are today.

But this may be nothing but the wildest speculation.

Perhaps rhythm should become important, again, since rhetoric and rhythm do not have to be at war—rhythm enhances rhetoric, in fact.

Some would say modern poetry has set rhythm free.

No matter the quality under examination, however, any part of a poem can charm as a poem—with every quality a poem might possess.

Before we get to the brackets, let’s look at three examples in the 2019 tournament:

Milton’s “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame” is powerfully rhythmic in a manner the moderns no longer evince. It is like a goddess before which we kneel.

Sushmita Guptas “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love” also has rhythm, but this is not a goddess, but a flesh and blood woman, before which we kneel and adore.

Medha Singh’s “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on” is so different from Milton, it almost seems like a different art form; here is the sad and homely, with which we fall madly in love.

And now we present the 2019 March Madness poets:

I. THE BOLD BRACKET

Diane Lockward — “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

Aseem Sundan — “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

Menka Shivdasani — “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

John Milton — “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame”

Philip Larkin —“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

Eliana Vanessa — “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

Robin Richardson — “Please let me be a blaze. I will destroy,/I mean create again this place.”

Khalypso — “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

Walter Savage Landor —“I strove with none, for none was worth my strife”

Robin Morgan — “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Joie Bose — “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love.”

Daipayan Nair — “I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Edgar Poe — “Over the mountains/of the moon,/Down the valley of the shadow”

Linda Ashok — “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Hoshang Merchant — “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

Aaron Poochigian — “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.”

****

II. THE MYSTERIOUS BRACKET

Jennifer Barber — “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

Percy Shelley —“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

A.E. Stallings — “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

Merryn Juliette — “grey as I am”

Michelina Di Martino — “Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sukrita Kumar — “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

Ben Mazer — “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

Richard Wilbur —“The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Sridala Swami —“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Nabina Das — “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

Kushal Poddar — “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

Meera Nair — “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

Ranjit Hoskote — “The nightingale doesn’t blame the gardener or the hunter:/Fate had decided spring would be its cage.”

Aakriti Kuntal — “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Srividya Sivakumar— “I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

Sophia Naz — “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

III. THE LIFE BRACKET

William Logan —‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”

Danez Smith — “i call your mama mama”

Divya Guha — “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

N Ravi Shankar—“You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

Rupi Kaur — “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

June Gehringer — “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

Marilyn Chin — “by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

Sam Sax — “that you are reading this/must be enough”

Dylan Thomas —“After the first death, there is no other.”

Stephen Cole — “I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

Alec Solomita — “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

Kim Gek Lin Short —“If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

Lily Swarn — “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

Semeen Ali — “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

Akhil Katyal — “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

Garrison Keillor — “Starved for love, obsessed with sin,/Sunlight almost did us in.”

****

IV. THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET

Mary Angela Douglas — “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

Ann Leshy Wood — “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

Medha Singh — “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

Yana Djin — “Morning dew will dress each stem.”

John Keats —“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

Sushmita Gupta — “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

William Shakespeare —“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

A.E. Housman —“The rose-lipt girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

Raena Shirali — “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

C.P. Surendran — “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

Dimitry Melnikoff —“Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

Sharanya Manivannan — “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”

Abhijit Khandkar — “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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