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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

THE RED WHEEL BARROW SOLVED!

The new William Carlos Williams biography, “Something Urgent I Have to Say to You” by Herbert Leibowitz, editor of Parnassus, is an unwieldy, poorly organized, ill-written mess, but the 496 page tome does present plenty of unflattering gossip about its subject.  It’s not that Leibowitz doesn’t adore Williams—he certainly does—but as one reads the book, something interesting happens: the Williams mystique, constructed around the coy and tacit verse, is lovingly lured from its hiding place—Williams is bathed in light, written large across the sky in a fit of close-reading (poems and poet) by this generous and hefty biography, and we see the flawed, unhappy, egotistical man step from behind the poems at last. 

Goodbye, Mystique.  Hello, Embarrassment.

Prediction: This detailed, major-publisher effort (FSG) will mark the beginning of the decline of Williams’ reputation after its slow and steady increase for almost 100 years.  

The reasons are two-fold: 

First, Leibowitz indulges modernist platitudes in such a heavy-handed, amateurish manner that there is sure to be a backlash for that reason alone.  Here’s an example:

Progress would come slowly but steadily, and so it did.  Al Que Quiere!, his 1917 book of poems, showed promise that he would eventually find his own voice. He was not too proud to seek tutors who might hasten his acquisition of a flexible technique. Luckily, across the Hudson River, the New York art scene was fermenting, and the headquarters for the avant-garde was Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery, whose influential magazine Camera Works was the photographer’s sounding board for publicizing the new art before the Armory Show. Stieglitz’s expert eye reconnoitered the  European skies like a powerful telescope to discover the newest stars, such as Juan Gris, or a movement, such as prankish, subversive Dadaism, but also swept the horizon for emerging American artists such as Charles Demuth and Marsden Hartley. On the walls of his gallery hung paintings and photographs that deliberately set out to shake up the complacent traditions and premises of what art could and should do. Nothing was sacred or impervious to the breakthroughs the new art trumpeted.

“Find his voice…not too proud…across the Hudson river…the art scene was fermenting…nothing was sacred…the new art trumpeted.”   The writing is dull and the bibilographical interest is derived only from Williams’ letters; there’s no literary interest aside from some ambitious close-readings of the poetry; important figures such as John Quinn, Walter Arensburg, Alfred Kreymborg, Alfred Stieglitz are merely mentioned in passing.  Pound, who we know enough of already, is ever-present.  Chapter one begins with, “The high priests of the New Criticism schooled their acolytes in an art of reading poems that elevated technique—modulations of meter, subtle shifts in tone, adroit maneuvers with syntax, ironies planted in dramatic monologues to detonate later—to unaccustomed sovereignty.”  This is nice, but in the entire chapter, Leibowitz does not quote one New Critic!  We get prose like this: “The job of the critic was to ferret out linguistic clues scattered on and below the poem’s surface and, through patient analysis, put the circuitry back together.”  After a look at recent essays by Joyce Carol Oates and John Updike, there follows an inspection of Pound’s Cantos and when Williams finally makes an appearance: “Asphodel,” the stroke, the infidelities, and the attempt to explain them to his wife, Floss.  Was Williams opposed to the New Critics?  Did he know any New Critics?  What did the New Critics say about Williams’ poetry?  Leibowitz doesn’t answer any of these questions; an organizing principle is nowhere to be seen. The first chapter is a train wreck.  The book is not a literary biography; it desperately needs editing.  One gleans gossip from it.  Occasionally one finds a solid close-reading of one of Williams’ short poems: “Something Urgent I Have to Say to You” serves no other purpose.

Secondly, Liebowitz, not a New Critic, apparently, shows the reader enough of Williams himself to penetrate the mystical and reticent veil of his modernism: we clearly see the flawed person behind it.   As Richard Howard writes on the book’s back cover: “Leibowitz’s study of the good doctor Williams leaves us in no doubt of his troubled and troubling character.”

When the life is put next to the poetry and its apologies, the apologies lose their force.  When we learn, for instance, that Williams courted and married a woman he did not love because her sister (Charlotte) rejected his marriage proposal and because this same woman—who rejected him—married his brother, Edgar; when we see the weakness, the vanity, the egotism, and the deep insecurity of the man, (there’s even a hint of pedophilia) the narrow literary beliefs subtly change from the revolutionary and heroic to the spiteful and foolish; what is this hatred of Eliot all about, anyway?  “I distrust that bastard” and “It’s like walking into a church to me”  writes Williams to his fascist friend Pound in 1939—but if Williams’ poetry is like magnetized words thrown against a fridge, who is Williams to complain about a “church,” and why is Williams not able to see that Eliot’s poetry speaks like actual persons—with more variety—than Williams’ does? 

Leibowitz is alive to the sexual interest of Williams’ work, and the biography’s frankness helps us to see that modernism wasn’t just about fascism, the leisured rich, and pretence, it was also about sex.  In 1914, Williams, now married to Floss, writes to a young woman whom he unsuccessfully tried to have an affair with:

You are wrong to overlook the worth of the “Egoist” in a fit of temper against the filthiness you may find there. You might as well detest your own hands because your nails do on occasion get muck under them. I know of no one who has yet advocated  pulling out the nails to prevent this annoying accident.

Pulling out the nails… The poet’s prose is almost as banal as his biographer’s.

Williams fails often in love; in fact, he fails all the time, but Leibowitz seems blind to this; his theme seems to be that Williams had a jealous, puritanical streak that got in the way of pleasure, and yet Williams enjoyed numerous affairs–but none of these are documented, and one suspects Williams’ conquests are hearsay.  Or was there the occasional visit to a prostitute? 

Still, sex and imagist poetry converge in the mind, thanks to this Williams biography.   OK, one thinks to oneself; I guess I can see it.

Sex!
Purple flowers!
Sex!

Yellow flowers!
Beside the purple ones!

Though Leibowitz doesn’t mention this, the New Critics did aid Williams’ career; Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks’ influential textbook, Understanding Poetry, greatly admires “The Red Wheel Barrow.”

After reading Leibowitz’s biography, Scarriet has discovered the secret of this famous poem, and we will share it with you now.

This simple poem,

So much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

features the obsession of Williams’ life: his brother and only sibling, Edgar, marrying the woman, Charlotte, he, Bill, courted and loved .  There are two things next to each other in this poem: Red recalls the name of his brother, Edgar, and as we look for Charlotte’s name, there it is, in chickens.  

A man-made thing, “the wheel barrow,” represents Edgar, a ruddy, healthy, individual, and an architect—and the second thing in the picture is “white,” as in a bride.

A WORDY BORDER

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus looms over the Modernist School

A poem is a philosophical song.

The poem’s hub may be mad hilarity or too grim, or secretive, for words, but a poem’s circumferance will always be a wordy border, patrolled by pedants indifferent to its passionate origins, scratching their graying heads, asking, “Is this poem great?  Is it culturally relevant?”

In the year 2000, David Lehman, poet and editor of  the annual Best American Poetry series (1988—present) graciously asked all of his previous guest editors up until that point (13 and all prestigious American poets) to name their top 15 poems of the 20th century—a pretty simple request, and, we think all would agree, an interesting assignment.  The results were published in the back of The Best American Poetry 2000 volume.

Two of the Best American Poetry Guest editors—Louise Gluck and Adrienne Rich—refused to play.

One—Richard Howard—didn’t follow the rule, and listed books instead of poems.

Three—Howard, Mark Strand and Donald Hall—limited themselves to dead poets.

David Lehman added his list as well—so a total of 12 important American poets participated.

We are not here to impugn the results—only to analyze them.  We might as well get this out of the way first: the VIDA score of “The Best American Poetry of the Twentieth Century” (as Lehman titled the section) was abysmal: 16% of the choices were by women, although 30% of the editors originally asked by Lehman were female.  It didn’t help the women that two women editors refused to participate.  And, if you remove Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore from the choices of the best poems of the 20th century by this distinguished panel, the VIDA score drops to 5%  Not one poem by Edna Vincent Millay, Anne Sexton, Amy Lowell, Mary Oliver, or Sharon Olds was chosen.

The Best American Poetry editors all seemed to run in fear of the popular poem.  The quality of the choices can be disputed, but there was a glaring sameness about the choices, a definite lock-step approach by the group.  Not only did the individuals within the group select the same authors and the same poems with great frequency, but poems with the same themes. 

According to the nearly 200 poems selected by the group in the category: Best Poem of the 20th Century, the easy winner was: Elizabeth Bishop writing about an animal.  Only Frost got more votes than Bishop.

Compiling all the votes, here’s how the Top 15 Greatest Poems of the 20th Century, according to John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Jorie Graham, Mark Strand, Charles Simic, Louise Gluck (Didn’t play), A.R. Ammons, Richard Howard, Adrienne Rich (Didn’t play), James Tate, John Hollander, Robert Bly, Rita Dove, and David Lehman:

1.    The Waste Land -TS Eliot 1922
2.   The Bridge -Hart Crane 1930
3.    In Praise of Limestone -W.H. Auden 1948
4.    Little Gidding  -TS Eliot 1941
5.    Book of Ephraim  -James Merrill 1976
6.    Voyages  -Hart Crane 1926
7.    Asphodel, That Greeny Flower  -WC Williams 1962
8.    77 Dream Songs  -John Berryman  1964
9.    After Apple Picking  -Robert Frost  1914
10.    Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening  -Robert Frost  1923
11.     At The Fishhouses  -Elizabeth Bishop  1955
12.    The Comedian As The Letter C  -Wallace Stevens  1923
13.    Spring and All  -WC Williams  1923
14.    The Auroras of Autumn  -Wallace Stevens  1950
15.    Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror  -John Ashbery  1974

The selections are all permeated by a similar theme and approach: turgid language; a restlessness of philosophical meditation; a singular, yet ever-shifting landscape; rhetoric far more descriptive than emotive; given to lyrical flights of prose, broadly metaphorical, using more frequently the ideas of Heraclitus, famous for his, “no man ever steps in the same river twice—it’s not the same river, and it’s not the same man.”

Number eleven on the list, “At the Fishhouses” by Elizabeth Bishop, is pure Heraclitus.  Her poem ends:

If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

Auden’s poem, at number three, “In Praise of Limestone,” as you can see from the opening lines, is remarkably similar:

If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish

“The Comedian As The Letter C” by Wallace Stevens, at no. 12, is self-consciously Heraclitean in its prose-poetry:

gaudy, gusty panoply…

That prose should wear a poem’s guise at last…

Shebang. Exeunt omnes. Here was prose
More exquisite than any tumbling verse…

The bombast of Hart Crane was extremely popular with the voters:

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty–

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
–Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,–
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,–

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path–condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

They say the wind is sucked, not blown.  Most poets and critics, even as they wear the gowns of culture and history, are pulled along by group-think, sucked into judgement without will, trapped by the tuggings of trends and fashions.

All of these choices seem to be driven by the same post-World War I, European Modernist sensibility.  Gloomy meditations on the two world wars belong to T.S. Eliot’s English point of view in “The Waste Land” and “Little Gidding.”   Since Auden was included as an American, it seems poets like Louis Simpson, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin and Stephen Spender should have been included, especially since the Modernism these Best American Poets so admire is very European.

The last quarter of the 20th century was almost completely neglected.  Poets such as Billy Collins, Donald Justice, Robert Pinsky, and Jack Spicer got no votes at all.  Ginsberg got only one vote—for “Howl” by Rita Dove.

Were the voters seeking to silence their contemporary rivals by focusing on the first half of the twentieth century?

Other poets getting more than one vote for their poems were Pound, Roethke, Robinson, O’Hara, Lowell, Creeley, Schuyler, Wilbur, Warren, Jarrell, and Ammons.

ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR: ANALYSIS

So I’m here with Marla Muse, once again, as we are about to begin play that will bring us closer to crowning a Best American Poetry Champion in 2010.

Marla, could it be a Canadian?

It could.  Magaret Atwood’s poem from Richard Howard’s 1995 volume, “Bored.”  Atwood broke Franz Wright’s heart in triple-overtime in Sweet Sixteen.  We won’t soon forget that one!

No, we won’t.   Atwood goes against William Kulik in the North final.

What does Billy Collins have to do to advance against Stephen Dunn?  Dunn, if you remember won his game in the last second against Robert Pinsky.  Meanwhile, Collins rolled over Harry Mathews with a swarming defense as “Composed Over Three Miles From Tintern Abbey” proved too much for “Histoire” to handle.

Tom, I think Billy has to get it to Wordsworth.  That’s the guy who has taken him this far. And the lambs have to bound, Tom, the lambs really have to bound.

They’ve been bounding and bounding well.  How about the two American women left in the tournament…not well known…but they’re very tough…

They are…Reb Livingston in the South final will be facing Bernard Welt…who is nervous, we’ve already seen that…and Janet Bowdan will be defending her chance to go to the Final Four in the West against Lewis “Buzz” Buzbee, who, in contrast to Welt, seems very relaxed.

Tarzan has brought his hammock to the West bracket final…

And Jane and Cheetah, of course…

Bowdan’s poem is lovely, isn’t it?

Yes, Tom, Bowdan’s poem is from Rita Dove’s 2000 volume.   Bowdan could go all the way.

We can feel the tension in the air here as the poets and publishers pour into the arena for these four contests.  I’ve never felt such excitement, really, since Athens, and those playwrighting contests, when I was just a young girl…

Marla Muse, you don’t look a day over 2,000!

Thanks, Tom!

MARGARET ATWOOD “BORES” INTO FRANZ WRIGHT’S “BRIGHT” IN FIGHT WHICH WILL CUT IT TO EIGHT.

BORED by Margaret Atwood

All those times I was bored
out of my mind.  Holding the log
while he sawed it.  Holding
the string while he measured, boards,
distances between things, or pounded
stakes into the ground for rows and rows
of lettuces and beets, which I then (bored)
weeded.  Or sat in the back
of the car, or sat still in boats,
sat, sat, while at the prow, stern, wheel
he drove, steered, paddled.  It
wasn’t even boredom, it was looking,
looking hard and up close at the small
details.  Myopia.  The worn gunwales,
the intricate twill of the seat
cover.  The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
of dry moss, the blackish and then the greying
bristles on the back of his neck.
Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would.  The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes.  Such minutiae.  It’s what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows.  He pointed
such things out, and I would look
at the whorled texture of his square finger, earth under
the nail.  Why do I remember it as summer
all the time then, although it more often
rained, and more birdsong?
I could hardly wait to get
the hell out of there to
anywhere else.  Perhaps though
boredom is happier.  It is for dogs or
groundhogs.  Now I wouldn’t be bored.
Now I would know too much.
Now I would know.

Richard Howard selected this Margaret Atwood poem in 1995.  As editor that year, he made his own rule that he would not select poems from poets who had appeared three times previously in the Series, and so, we got an Atwood in 1995, instead of an Ashbery or an Ammons, and so if a Canadian should happen to win the Scarriet All-Time Best American Poetry Tournament, we can all blame Richard Howard.

Franz Wright was not born in the United States and there is something German Romantic about Franz.  Billy Collins picked Wright’s “A Happy Thought” for his 2006 volume, and Billy’s as American as they come, vigilant in his satire of old poetic styles, Roman, French avant garde, Romantic, and Billy likes jazz, and is just a melting pot of humor and wit.  So that’s good.

OK, we’ve seen what Atwood’s got. 

Wright comes out of the tunnel—into the light, ready to play!

Marla, listen to that crowd!

I love crowds. 

Wright knows this could be his last game, in this single-elimination playoff, but he says he’s going to play this like it’s any other game,  like it was his first.

This is to play in the North final.

A Happy Thought

Assuming this is the last day of my life
(which might mean it is almost the first),
I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright.

Prepare for what’s known here as death;
have no fear of that strange word forever.
Even I can see there’s nothing there

to be afraid of: having already been
to forever I’m unable to recall
anything that scared me, there, or hurt.

What frightened me, apparently, and hurt
was being born.  But I got over that
with no hard feelings.  Dying, I imagine

it will be the same deal, lonesomer maybe,
but surely no more shocking or prolonged—
It’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

Beautiful, hopeful poem.

Wright will make uncanny shots and then miss easy ones.  Let’s see if he’s consistent enough to bring down the tenacious, novel-made-into-major-motion-picture, Booker Prize winning Margaret Atwood.

Wright is playing like he’s possessed!  In a trance, almost, not forcing anything, a long jumper, from waaaay outside…swish!

Wright’s playing with ice in his veins…He’s hitting everything…!

First half, big lead for Wright…

But as we start the second half…oh…another miss…Wright can’t make anything fall…his big lead dwindling…Atwood’s poem has more details and that’s starting to add up for the Canadian….!

Marla, the pictures used for the two poems…Atwood’s may have been more emotionally effective…

That does a play a part, Tom…the photo used for Wright’s poem may have been a little too literal…as you know, these are factors that the poets can’t control…[Richard] Howard may be out-coaching [Billy] Collins here a little bit…

Atwood showing emotional toughness…her poem has all those rich details…Wright trying to find some image he can fall back on…Atwood scores…and we’re tied!  I don’t believe it! 

We’re going into overtime! 

It’s “Now I would know” against “then bright, so bright.” 

What a contest!

Who are you rooting for in this one, Marla?

I soar, I don’t root.  I’m not paid to root, Tom.

Okay, Marla, it’s going back and forth here…

And we’re tied!  Second overtime!

No one’s “bored” by this one!  

Tom, shut up.

Sorry, Marla.  Are you a Dame, by the way, Marla?  Is Margaret a Dame?

Tom, please…earthly titles?  Ha!

These poets want it, and they want it badly.   Both poems…so courageous…and deep…it’s like a couple of badgers tearing at each other…

What a game!

Seconds left, and we’re tied, at the end of the third overtime!

Atwood at the free-throw line.  She has two shots.  If she makes one, she wins.

First shot…

No good!

Here’s the second one…

Good!!!!!!! 

Atwood wins!!!!!

O, Canada!

Damn you, Richard Howard!

There’s nothing left to say…

Atwood is in the Elite Eight.

MARLA MUSE, OUR ‘BEST AMERICAN POETRY MARCH MADNESS’ REPORTER


…………………Sketch by George Romney  1734-1802

She’s been covering gods, warriors, muses, and poets for centuries!

Our own Marla Muse!

She’s a child of nature.

But she did get with the program in 1932, earning her undergraduate degree at Iowa the same year Paul Engle’s Iowa Master’s Thesis won the Yale Younger Poets Competition.

She has studied with Yvor Winters at Stanford, Alan Tate at Minnesota, John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon, and Richard Howard at Columbia.

Marla also claims to have been the muse, for at least a few months, to the following: Sappho, Zhang Ji, Milton, Phillis Wheatley, Margaret Fuller, Lydia Sigourney, Helen Whitman, Elizabeth Barrett, Paul Valery, Rudyard Kipling, Yone Noguchi, Philip Larkin, Syd Barrett, Tony Hoagland, and Lewis Buzbee.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Marla Muse!

BILLY EDGES JORIE IN SWEET SIXTEEN

The Best American Poetry March Madness Tournament is down to 16 poets.

“Poets don’t know a lot of math, but I can count to sixteen,” a grinning Billy Collins said after his close win over Harvard professor Jorie Graham

“Don’t you count syllables in your poems?” a reporter yelled from the back of the Kennedy Center lobby.  

“I count wins,” Collins quipped, obviously on cloud nine after making the Sweet Sixteen with a hard fought victory.

Billy’s poem, “Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey,” looks back at Wordsworth looking back; it resonated a little more than Jorie Graham’s “On Difficulty,” which looks down at Adam and Eve looking up.

They can look up and wonder no longer.   Adam and Eve are going home.

John Hollander chose the Collins poem for the 1998 volume.  Ashbery chose the Graham poem for the first BAP 1988 book.

Collins is the only one who has made the Sweet 16 as BAP poet and BAP editor (2). 

Heather McHugh (3) has the most editor selections in the Sweet 16.  Richard Howard (2) and Donald Hall (2) are making strong showings as editors in the Sweet 16 as well.

Sweet Sixteen Results:

Let’s start with the EastBilly Collins, Stephen Dunn, Robert Pinsky, and Harry Mathews have survived.

In the North, jubilation for Louis Simpson, William Kulik, Margaret Atwood, and Franz Wright.

In the West, the winners were Brad Leithauser, Janet Bowdan, Dean Young, and Lewis Buzbee.

And finally, in the South, rounding out the Sweet 16, are Kenneth Koch, Alan Shapiro, Bernard Welt,  and Reb Livingston.

Able to stop Jorie Graham, Billy Collins now has to be the favorite to go all the way.  

Can anyone stop the Tintern Abbey train?

BELLES, BELLES, BELLES, BELLES, BELLES, BELLES, BELLES

Let’s examine women poets.

It’s not a happy prospect, because the woman poet has lost her way.

Since mothers sang lullabies, since divas rocked opera houses, since numerous women poets earned a living writing poetry in the 19th century, there has been a falling off.

Not since Edna Millay has there been a truly popular female poet, one who could fill an arena, make headlines, cause vibrations in the popular culture.

Why is this?

100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century, Mark Strand, editor, Norton, 2005,  is 14% women and 8% American women, Clampitt, Stone, Swenson, Bishop, Moore, H.D., Bogan, and Millay.   H.D. and Moore belonged to Pound’s clique; Moore mentored Bishop who was known also because of her association with Robert Lowell, Swenson worked for New Directions, Bogan, for the New Yorker, Clampitt regularly published in the New Yorker, Stone has been a creative writing teacher for years; Millay is the only one with independent force–and she was viciously attacked by Pound’s champion Hugh Kenner.  Millay had numerous lovers, including Edmund Wilson and George Dillon, Pulitzer Prize for poetry and Poetry magazine editor, but Millay didn’t give to get; she didn’t plot her fame; it came looking for her—because of who she was.  It seems hard to believe Millay is the only American woman poet of whom we can say this.

In David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series, which has existed for 20 years now, only one poet has enjoyed a kind of ‘must be included’ status, and that’s John Ashbery; Ammons until his death, was a close second, and now Billy Collins is almost in that positon, not to mention Richard Howard, Donald Hall, Charles Simic, James Tate, also John Hollander, James Merrill, Thom Gunn, Kenneth Koch, and Donald Justice, while they were alive.   No female poet is even close.   Jorie Graham, Louise Gluck, Rossana Warren, and Rita Dove have no impact beyond academia—nor even within it; for they have no unique  theoretical or rhetorical calling, and women who do, like Vendler or Perloff (pedants who champion men, mostly), are not poets.

When tiny enclaves of mostly male academic pedants decide what poetry should be, is it any wonder po-biz looks the way it does?

Modernist poets Ford Madox Ford and Pound worked for war machines (British, Axis Powers, respectively) and/or were bigotted misogynists like T.S. Eliot…”in the rooms the women come and go/talking of Michelangelo.”

Robert Frost wrote poems mostly of male work— “mending walls” and solo male journeys “stopping by woods” and “road[s] less traveled” —and Frost’s poetry was universally praised and celebrated even as the same sorts of poems by women were declared trivial and dismissed as mere Victorian rhymes.

Frost, (b. 1875) was allowed to continue this Victorian tradition as a hard-nosed Yankee male, to great applause.

Obviously this does not mean we have to reject the poetry of Eliot or Frost.   We mention this only to add perspective on the plight of women poets.

As Muriel Rukeyser (b. 1913) wrote in her poem, “Poem (I Lived In The First Century):”

“I lived in the first century of world wars./Most mornings I would be more or less insane,/The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,/The news would pour out of various devices/Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen./I would call my friends on other devices;/They would be more or less mad for similar reasons./Slowly I would get to pen and paper,/Make my poems for others unseen…”

Rukeyser’s helpless, prosaic, passive address is the voice of a woman in thrall to a technological universe of people who are “unseen;” her poem is flat and prosaic; she is unable to sing in a man’s war-like world.  That’s probably Ezra Pound’s “news” that “pour[s] out of various devices.”  The 20th century was a century of “world wars,” of women’s songs in retreat.

Rukeyser is not a victim in the poem; she is a victim for having to write this sort of poetry at all.

One thinks of Bishop’s poem, “In the Waiting Room” (which takes place in 1918)  in which two helpless females, the young Bishop and her aunt Consuelo—who “sings” from pain—exist in a world of “pith helmets” and naked, “horrifying,” breasts in a National Geographic magazine in the office of a male dentist who remains “unseen.”

Men and technology have conquered.  Women are separate from men, and women are confused and suffering.

The standard explanation for why 19th century women poets are no longer read is:

Women were confined to writing on flowery, “womanly” topics due to the sexism of a male-dominated society.  Therefore, women’s works are worthless to modern audiences.

But this is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It is not our intention to rewrite history, or tell women what sort of poetry they ought to write; we merely suggest that a popular tradition has been eclipsed by a narrow trope which has taken root and flourished without check, as trends have been known to do.  This unfortunate phenomenon is not less important because it affects poetry only—the issue is a large one even though the illness is marginal, the marginality having been caused by the illness itself.  It is with pride and certainty that poetry no longer pipes and swoons and sings but practices a kind of hit-and-run philosophy in whatever form and shape it pleases; but this pride has led to a great fall; poetry neither contributes to science nor pleases the many—it has no real existence.

Lydia Sigourney’s “The Bell of the Wreck,” Alice Cary’s “To Solitude,” Maria Gowen Brooks’ “Song,” Elizabeth Oakes Smith’s “Ode To Sappho,” Sarah Helen Whitman’s “To Edgar Allan Poe,” Harriet Monroe’s “Love Song,” Elinor Wylie’s “Beauty,” Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose,” Genevieve Taggard’s “For Eager Lovers,”  Louise Bogan’s “Women,” Sarah Teasdale’s “The Look,” Edith M. Thomas’ “Winter Sleep,” Rose Hawthorne Lathrop’s “A Song Before Grief,” Ellen Wheeler Wilcox’s “Individuality,” Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus,” Emma Enbury’s “Love Unsought,” Ina Donna Coolbrith’s “When The Grass Shall Cover Me,” Mary Maple Dodge’s “Now The Noisy Winds Are Still,” Mary Ashley Townsend’s “Virtuosa,” Frances Harper’s “A Double Standard,” Lucy Larcom’s “A Strip Of Blue,” Amy Lowell’s “Patterns,” Hazel Hall’s “White Branches,” and Anna Hempstead Branch’s “Grieve Not, Ladies” are the kind of strong and beautiful poems by women which are routinely ignored.

Overly sentimental this poetry may often be, but the women authors were not sentimental.  Enduring the hardships of an earlier day, they could hardly afford to be.  Virtues of rhythm, image, unity of effect, and expressiveness shouldn’t be rejected by literary historians for a defect (“sentimentality”) which is, if one looks at the matter objectively, merely  superficial and technical, really.

When a poet ‘plays a part,’ as if ‘on stage,’ for instance, the expressive style adopted should not be measured against a rhetorical style in which the poet is talking as herself, as if across a table from the reader.  Much of the “sentimentality” is due to this approach, this technique, and is not due to any defect or fault, per se, in the soul or sensibility of the 19th century women poet.

Here is one of my favorites from the poems listed above.   Note the simplicity of language, the sturdy rhythm, the confident music, and the plain but exquisite final image:

To Solitude

I am weary of the working,
Weary of the long day’s heat,
To thy comfortable bosom,
Wilt thou take me, spirit sweet?
.
Weary of the long, blind struggle
For a pathway bright and high,–
Weary of the dimly dying
Hopes that never quite all die.
.
Weary searching a bad cipher
For a good that must be meant;
Discontent with being weary,—
Weary with my discontent.
.
I am weary of the trusting
Where my trusts but torment prove;
Wilt thou keep faith with me?  wilt thou
Be my true and tender love?
.
I am weary drifting, driving
Like a helmless bark at sea;
Kindly, comfortable spirit,
Wilt thou give thyself to me?
.
Give thy birds to sing me sonnets?
Give thy winds my cheeks to kiss?
And thy mossy rocks to stand for
The memorials of our bliss?
.
I in reverence will hold thee,
Never vexed with jealous ills,
Though thy wild and wimpling waters
Wind about a thousand hills.

………………………………………...Alice Cary (1820–1871)

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