HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2017 SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100

Image may contain: 2 people, sunglasses

1 Bob Dylan. Nobel Prize in Literature.

2 Ron Padgett. Hired to write three poems for the current film Paterson starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

3 Peter Balakian. Ozone Journal, about the Armenian genocide, won 2016 Pulitzer in Poetry.

4 Sherman Alexie. BAP 2015 ‘yellow-face controversy’ editor’s memoir drops this June.

5 Eileen Myles. Both her Selected Poems & Inferno: A Poet’s Novel making MSM lists.

6 Claudia Rankine. Citizen: important, iconic, don’t ask if it’s good poetry.

7 Anne Carson. The Canadian’s two latest books: Decreation & Autobiography of Red.

8 Paige Lewis. Her poem “The River Reflects Nothing” best poem published in 2016.

9 William Logan. In an age of poet-minnows he’s the shark-critic.

10 Ben Mazer. “In the alps I read the shipping notice/pertaining to the almond and the lotus”

11 Billy Collins. The poet who best elicits a tiny, sheepish grin.

12 John Ashbery. There is music beneath the best of what this New York School survivor does.

13 Joie Bose. Leads the Bolly-Verse Movement out of Kolkata, India.

14 Mary Oliver. Her latest book, Felicity, is remarkably strong.

15 Daipayan Nair.  “I am a poet./I kill eyes.”

16 Nikky Finny. Her book making MSM notices is Head Off & Split.

17 Sushmita Gupta. [Hers the featured painting] “Oh lovely beam/of moon, will you, too/deny me/soft light and imagined romance?”

18 A.E. Stallings. Formalism’s current star.

19 W.S. Merwin. Once the house boy of Robert Graves.

20 Mary Angela Douglas. “but God turns down the flaring wick/color by color almost/regretfully.”

21 Sharon Olds. Her Pulitzer winning Stag’s Leap is about her busted marriage.

22 Valerie Macon. Briefly N.Carolina Laureate. Pushed out by the Credentialing Complex.

23 George Bilgere. Imperial is his 2014 book.

24 Stephen Dunn. Norton published his Selected in 2009.

25 Marilyn Chin. Prize winning poet named after Marilyn Monroe, according to her famous poem.

26 Kushal Poddar. “The water/circles the land/and the land/my heaven.”

27 Stephen Burt. Harvard critic’s latest essay “Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump.” What will hold?

28 Joe Green. “Leave us alone. Oh, what can we do?/The wild, wild winds go willie woo woo.”

29 Tony Hoagland. Tangled with Rankine over tennis and lost.

30 Cristina Sánchez López. “I listen to you while the birds erase the earth.”

31 Laura Kasischke. Awkward social situations portrayed by this novelist/poet.

32 CAConrad. His latest work is The Book of Frank.

33 Terrance Hayes. National Book Award in 2010, a MacArthur in 2014

34 Robin Coste Lewis. Political cut-and-paste poetry.

35 Stephen Cole. “And blocked out the accidental grace/That comes with complete surprise.”

36 Martín Espada. Writes about union workers.

37 Merryn Juliette “And my thoughts unmoored/now tumbling/Like sand fleas on the ocean floor”

38 Daniel Borzutzky. The Performance of Being Human won the National Book Award in 2016.

39 Donald Hall. His Selected Poems is out.

40 Diane Seuss. Four-Legged Girl a 2016 Pulitzer finalist.

41 Vijay Seshadri. Graywolf published his 2014 Pulitzer winner.

42 Sawako Nakayasu. Translator of Complete Poems of Chika Sagawa.

43 Ann Kestner. Her blog since 2011 is Poetry Breakfast.

44 Rita Dove. Brushed off Vendler and Perloff attacks against her 20th century anthology.

45 Marjorie Perloff. A fan of Charles Bernstein and Frank O’hara.

46 Paul Muldoon. Moy Sand and Gravel won Pulitzer in 2003.

47 Frank Bidart. Winner of the Bollingen. Three time Pulitzer finalist.

48 Frederick Seidel. Compared “Donald darling” Trump to “cow-eyed Hera” in London Review.

49 Alice Notley. The Gertrude Stein of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

50 Jorie Graham. She writes of the earth.

51 Maggie Smith. “Good Bones.” Is the false—“for every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird”— poetry?

52 Adrian Matejka. His book The Big Smoke is about the boxer Jack Johnson.

53 Elizabeh Alexander. African American Studies professor at Yale. Read at Obama’s first inauguration.

54 Derek Walcott. Convinced Elizabeth Alexander she was a poet as her mentor at Boston University.

55 Richard Blanco. Read his poem, “One Today,” at Obama’s second inauguration.

56 Louise Glück. A leading serious poet.

57 Kim Addonizio. Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life came out in 2016.

58 Kay Ryan. An Emily Dickinson who gets out, and laughs a little.

59 Lyn Hejinian. An elliptical poet’s elliptical poet.

60 Vanessa Place. Does she still tweet about Gone With The Wind?

61 Susan Howe. Born in Boston. Called Postmodern.

62 Marie Howe. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time is her latest book.

63 Glynn Maxwell. British poetry influencing Americans? Not since the Program Era took over.

64 Robert Pinsky. Uses slant rhyme in his translation of Dante’s terza rima in the Inferno.

65 David Lehman. His Best American Poetry (BAP) since 1988, chugs on.

66 Dan Sociu. Romanian poet of the Miserabilism school.

67 Chumki Sharma. The great Instagram poet.

68 Matthew Zapruder. Has landed at the N.Y. Times with a poetry column.

69 Christopher Ricks. British critic at Boston University. Keeping T.S. Eliot alive.

70 Richard Howard. Pinnacle of eclectic, Francophile, non-controversial, refinement.

71 Dana Gioia. Poet, essayist.  Was Chairman of NEA 2003—2009.

72 Alfred Corn. The poet published a novel in 2014 called Miranda’s Book.

73 Jim Haba. Noticed by Bill Moyers. Founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

74 Hessamedin Sheikhi. Young Iranian poet translated by Shohreh (Sherry) Laici

75 Pablo Larrain. Directed 2016 film Neruda.

76 Helen Vendler. Wallace Stevens champion. Helped Jorie Graham.

77 Kenneth Goldsmith. Fame for poetry is impossible.

78 Cate Marvin. Oracle was published by Norton in 2015.

79 Alan Cordle. Still the most important non-poet in poetry.

80 Ron Silliman. Runs a well-known poetry blog. A Bernie man.

81 Natalie Diaz.  Her first poetry collection is When My Brother Was An Aztec.

82 D.A. Powell. Lives in San Francisco. His latest book is Repast.

83 Edward Hirsch. Guest-edited BAP 2016.

84 Dorianne Laux. Will always be remembered for “The Shipfitter’s Wife.”

85 Juan Felipe Herrera. Current Poet Laureate of the United States.

86 Patricia Lockwood. Her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in 2013 thanks to Twitter followers.

87 Kanye West. Because we all know crazy is best.

88 Charles Bernstein. Hates “official verse culture” and PWCs. (Publications with wide circulation.)

89 Don Share. Editor of Poetry.

90 Gail Mazur. Forbidden City is her seventh and latest book.

91 Harold Bloom. Since Emerson, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot are dead, he keeps the flame of Edgar Allan Poe hatred alive.

92 Alan Shapiro.  Life Pig is his latest collection.

93 Dan Chiasson. Reviews poetry for The New Yorker.

94 Robert Hass. “You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.”

95 Maurice Manning.  One Man’s Dark is a “gorgeous collection” according to the Washington Post.

96 Brian Brodeur. Runs a terrific blog: How A Poem Happens, of contemporary poets.

97 Donald Trump. Tweets-in-a-shit-storm keeping the self-publishing tradition alive.

98 Ben Lerner. Wrote the essay “The Hatred of Poetry.”

99 Vidyan Ravinthiran. Editor at Prac Crit.

100 Derrick Michael Hudson. There’s no fame in poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100 IS HERE AGAIN!!!

Image result for masked ball in painting

1. Matthew Zapruder: Hurricane Matthew. Hired by the Times to write regular poetry column. Toilet papered the house of number 41.

2. Edward Hirsch: Best American Poetry 2106 Guest Editor.

3. Christopher Ricks: Best living critic in English? His Editorial Institute cancelled by bureaucrats at Boston University.

4. Joie Bose: Living Elizabeth Barrett Browning of India.

5. Sherman Alexie: Latest BAP editor. Still stung from the Chinese poet controversy.

6. Jorie Graham: Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric at Harvard

7. W.S Merwin: Migration: New and Selected Poems, 2005

8. Terrance Hayes: “I am not sure how a man with no eye weeps.”

9. George Bilgere: “I consider George Bilgere America’s Greatest Living Poet.” –Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer

10. Billy Collins: Interviewed Paul McCartney in 2014

11. Stephen Cole: Internet Philosopher poet. “Where every thing hangs/On the possibility of understanding/And time, thin as shadows,/Arrives before your coming.”

12. Richard Howard: National Book Award Winner for translation of Les Fleurs du Mal in 1984.

13. William Logan: The kick-ass critic. Writes for the conservative New Criterion.

14. Sharon Olds: Stag’s Leap won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2012.

15. Nalini Priyadarshni: “Denial won’t redeem you/Or make you less vulnerable/My unwavering love just may.”  Her new book is Doppelgänger in my House.

16. Stephen Dobyns: “identical lives/begun alone, spent alone, ending alone”

17. Kushal Poddar: “You wheel out your mother’s latte silk/into the picnic of moths.” His new book is Scratches Within.

18. Jameson Fitzpatrick: “Yes, I was jealous when you threw the glass.”

19. Marilyn Chin: “It’s not that you are rare/Nor are you extraordinary//O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree”

20. E J Koh: “I browsed CIA.gov/for jobs”

21. Cristina Sánchez López: “If the moon knows dying, a symbol of those hearts, which, know using their silence as it was an impossible coin, we will have to be like winter, which doesn’t accept any cage, except for our eyes.”

22. Mark Doty: His New and Selected won the National Book Award in 2008.

23. Meghan O’ Rourke: Also a non-fiction writer, her poetry has been published in the New Yorker.

24. Alicia Ostriker: Born in Brooklyn in 1937.

25. Kay Ryan: “One can’t work by/ lime light.”

26. A.E. Stallings: Rhyme, rhyme, rhyme.

27. Dana Gioia: Champions Longfellow.

28. Marilyn Hacker: Antiquarian bookseller in London in the 70s.

29. Mary Oliver: “your one wild and precious life”

30. Anne Carson: “Red bird on top of a dead pear tree kept singing three notes and I sang back.”

31. Mary Jo Bang: “A breeze blew a window open on a distant afternoon.”

32. Forrest Gander: “Smoke rises all night, a spilled genie/who loves the freezing trees/but cannot save them.”

33. Stephen Burt: Author of Randall Jarrell and his Age. (2002)

34. Ann Lauterbach: Her latest book is Under the Sign (2013)

35. Richard Blanco: “One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes/tired from work”

36. Kenneth Goldsmith: “Humidity will remain low, and temperatures will fall to around 60 degrees in many spots.”

37. Rita Dove: Her Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry is already 5 years old.

38. Stephen Sturgeon: “blades of the ground feathered black/in moss, in the sweat of the set sun”

39. Marjorie Perloff: Her book, Unoriginal Genius was published in 2010.

40. Kyle Dargan: His ghazal, “Points of Contact,” published in NY Times: “He means sex—her love’s grip like a fist.”

41. Alan Cordle: Foetry.com and Scarriet founder.

42. Lyn Hejinian: “You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.”

43. Stephen Dunn: Lines of Defense: Poems came out in 2014.

44. Ocean Vuong: “Always another hour to kill—only to beg some god/to give it back”

45. Marie Howe: “I am living. I remember you.”

46. Vanessa Place: Controversial “Gone with the Wind” tweets.

47. Helen Vendler: Reviewed Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom, editor Ben Mazer, in the NYR this spring.

48. Martin Espada: Vivas To Those Who Have Failed is his new book of poems from Norton.

49. Carol Muske-Dukes: Poet Laureate of California from 2008 to 2011.

50. Sushmita Gupta: Poet and artist. Belongs to the Bollyverses renaissance. Sushness is her website.

51. Brad Leithauser: A New Formalist from the 80s, he writes for the Times, the New Criterion and the New Yorker.

52. Julie Carr: “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

53. Kim Addonizio: Tell Me (2000) was nominated for a National Book Award.

54. Glynn Maxwell: “This whiteness followed me at the speed of dawn.”

55. Simon Seamount: His epic poem on the lives of philosophers is Hermead.

56. Maggie Dietz: “Tell me don’t/ show me and wipe that grin/ off your face.”

57. Robert Pinsky: “When you were only a presence, at Pleasure Bay.”

58. Ha Jin: “For me the most practical thing to do now/is not to worry about my professorship.”

59. Peter Gizzi: His Selected Poems came out in 2014.

60. Mary Angela Douglas: “the steps you take in a mist are very small”

61. Robyn Schiff: A Woman of Property is her third book.

62. Karl Kirchwey: “But she smiled at me and began to fade.”

63. Ben Mazer: December Poems just published. “Life passes on to life the raging stars”

64. Cathy Park Hong: Her battle cry against Ron Silliman’s reactionary Modernists: “Fuck the avant-garde.”

65. Caroline Knox: “Because he was Mozart,/not a problem.”

66. Henri Cole: “There is no sun today,/save the finch’s yellow breast”

67. Lori Desrosiers: “I wish you were just you in my dreams.”

68. Ross Gay: Winner of the 2016 $100,000 Kingsley Tufts award.

69. Sarah Howe: Loop of Jade wins the 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.

70. Mary Ruefle: Published by Wave Books. A favorite of Michael Robbins.

71. CA Conrad: His blog is (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals.

72. Matvei Yankelevich: “Who am I alone. Missing my role.”

73. Fanny Howe: “Only that which exists can be spoken of.”

74. Cole Swensen: “Languor. Succor. Ardor. Such is the tenor of the entry.”

75. Layli Long Soldier: “Here, the sentence will be respected.”

76. Frank Bidart: Student and friend of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

77. Michael Dickman: “Green sky/Green sky/Green sky”

78. Deborah Garrison: “You must praise the mutilated world.”

79. Warsan Shire: “I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes/On my face they are still together.”

80. Joe Green: “I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.”

81. Joan Houlihan: Took part in Franz Wright Memorial Reading in Harvard Square in May.

82. Frannie Lindsay: “safe/from even the weak sun’s aim.”

83. Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright: Translates contemporary German poetry.

84. Noah Cicero: This wry, American buddhist poet’s book is Bi-Polar Cowboy.

85. Jennifer Barber: “The rose nude yawns, rolls over in the grass,/draws us closer with a gorgeous laugh.”

86. Tim Cresswell: Professor of history at Northeastern and has published two books of poems.

87. Thomas Sayers Ellis: Lost his job at Iowa.

88. Valerie Macon: Surrendered her North Carolina Poet Laureate to the cred-meisters.

89: David Lehman: Best American Poetry editor hates French theory, adores tin pan alley songs, and is also a poet .”I vote in favor/of your crimson nails”

90: Ron Silliman: Silliman’s Blog since 2002.

91: Garrison Keillor: The humorist is also a poetry anthologist.

92: Tony Hoagland: “I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain/or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade”

93. Alfred Corn: One of the most distinguished living poets.

94. Philip Nikolayev: He values spontaneity and luck in poetry, logic in philosophy.

95. Laura Kasischke: Read her poem, “After Ken Burns.”

96. Daipayan Nair: “I was never a part of the society. I have always created one.”

97. Claudia Rankine: Her prize-winning book is Citizen.

98. Solmaz Sharif: Her book Look is from Graywolf.

99. Morgan Parker: Zapruder published her in the NY Times.

100. Eileen Myles: She makes all the best-of lists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YES! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!!!

image

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.

 

 

 

 

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT RACE FOR A MINUTE

Vanessa Place: Art School Cool Forever?

Which of the following four individuals are racist, everything else being equal:

1). A white man who reviles black men and sleeps with black women.

2). A black man who reviles white men and sleeps with white women.

3). A white lesbian who writes on Facebook that we need to carefully listen to people of color and not let our white background get in the way of understanding what people of color experience every day.

4). A black lesbian who writes on Facebook that white people need to listen carefully to people of color and not let their white background get in the way of understanding what people of color experience every day.

The answer is obvious.  You know the answer, don’t you?

The issue of race is complicated—but not.

Poetry is complicated—until a good poet comes along.

The bad is complicated.

The good is not complicated.

Academics have been talking a lot about race lately—and making it sound extremely complicated—even as they try to make it sound extremely simple: white privilege.

A couple of conceptualist poets—Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place—used racist material for “art” and the “art” remained stubbornly invisible in the Conceptualist manner, leaving the Conceptualist Poets themselves looking a bit—oops!—racist.

Since every revolution has its purists, looking “a bit” racist can get you in a heap of trouble, and now Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith, once museum-curator-poet cool, are verging on not being cool.

Conceptualism messed with Ferguson and Gone With The Wind and learned the lesson of the dyer’s hand: like Lady Macbeth, Vanessa Place wishes her hand clean again.

Avant-garde poets sympathetic to Conceptualism, like Ron Silliman, have suddenly been reduced to apologetic whimpering re: the once proud 20th century poetry avant-garde which he and his friends represent (male and white…shhhh).

We at Scarriet have been Silliman’s gentle scold and conscience for quite some time.

Now it’s official:

Quietism 1 Conceptualism 0.

Remember Rita Dove versus Marjorie Perloff?  That seems like a minor dust-up in comparison to what’s occurring now. Or was it? Perhaps it is only possible for the scandalous and the wrong to exist this minute?

The cool-kids-trying-to-be-cool-again are fighting back, of course.

Vanessa Place, who was thrown off a committee because of her insensitivity to racism, may be a beloved martyr tomorrow: who knows?

Her defenders will say: Her hand is not clean, but no one’s is.  Nothing is clean.

We said the complicated is bad, and the simple is good, so here’s the whole Place controversy as simply as we can put it:

Those attacking Place are anti-Racists.

Place is anti-Pro-Racist.

This is like the early stages of the French Revolution: in the ‘race atmosphere’ which exists now, everyone is potentially a saint or a sinner in the blink of an eye.

The possibilities are endless.

Listening to everyone—especially academic poets—discussing race is amazing: talk about twisting oneself in knots.  “Am I good, or am I being too patronizing?”  “Am I being too honest?” “Shall I speak up? And what shall I say?”

Some just want to talk about art. Art, the concept, is the only umbrella that protects. Conceptualism thinks art is a useless concept, which is why the conceptualists feel unprotected and uncomfortable now.

The wheel is turning.

In Silliman’s latest, “Je Sui Vanessa,” Silliman cracks from the pressure of watching his beloved avant-garde  peeps, Goldsmith and Place, become totally uncool.

Silliman equates those attacking Place with hate crime murderers.

When morals are questioned, discomfort results. When cool is questioned, all hell breaks loose.

This is one of those points in history where you feel yourself moving, even as you are standing still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET’S HOT 100— AS WE RING OUT A WILD 2014!

olena.jpg

Olé, Olena!  No. 4 on the Scarriet Hot 100

1. Claudia Rankine –Seems everyone wanted her to win the National Book Award

2. Louise Gluck –Won the National Book Award. Coming into focus as morbid lyricist

3. Dan Chiasson –Coveted reviewing perch in the glossy pages of the New Yorker

4. Olena K. Davis –Praised by #3 for “Do you know how many men would paykilldie/for me to suck their cock? fuck

5. Terrance Hayes –2014 Best American Poetry Editor for David Lehman’s annual series (since 1988)

6. Patricia Lockwood –Her book, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals made NY Times most notable 2014 book list

7. Rita Dove What was all that fuss about her anthology, again?

8. Henri Cole —Poetry editor part of mass resignation at New Republic

9. Valerie Macon –appointed laureate of North Carolina, resigned due to firestorm because she lacked credentials

10. Helen Vendler –Contributing editor in TNR’s mass exodus

11. Glyn Maxwell –British poet and editor of The Poetry Of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

12. James Booth –author of Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love

13. Afaa Michael Weaver  –this spring won the Kingsley Tufts Award: $100,000 dollars

14. Frederick Seidel –Stirred outrage with a strange poem about Ferguson.

15. Clive James –Got into some controversy about racism and sex reviewing Booth’s book on Philip Larkin in the Times

16. William Logan –The honest reviewer is the best critic.

17. Ron Silliman –Elegy & Video-Cut-and-Paste Blog

18. John Ashbery –Perennial BAP poet

19. Cathy Park Hong –Wrote “Fuck the Avant-garde” before Brown/Garner protests: Hong says poetry avant-garde is racist.

20. Philip Nikolayev –Poet, translator, Fulcrum editor, currently touring India as beloved U.S. poetry guest

21. Marilyn Chin –Poet, translator, new book from Norton, currently touring Asia as beloved U.S. poetry guest

22. Daniel Borzutzky –Guest blogger on Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet: “We live in an occupied racist police state”

23. Ben Mazer –Brings out Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom—as po-biz churns with racial indignation

24. Nathaniel Mackey –Headlined poetry reading at Miami Book Fair International.

25. Marjorie Perloff  —Now we get it: the avant-garde is conservative

26. Amy Berkowitz –Wrote on VIDA Web page how everyone has been raped and how we can be safe.

27. Yelena Gluzman –Ugly Duckling editor publishes vol. 3 of annual document of performance practice, Emergency Index

28. Carol Ann Duffy –British poet laureate gave riveting reading in Mass Poetry festival (Salem, MA) this spring

29. P.J. Harvey –Rocker to publish book of poems in 2015—Good luck.  Rock is easier.

30. Christian Nagler –poet in Adjunct Action: “SF Art Institute: faculty are 80% adjunct and have no say in the functioning of the institution”

31. Major Jackson –Wins $25,000 NEA grant.

32. Divya Victor –Her book, Things To Do With Your Mouth, wins CA Conrad’s Sexiest Poetry Award.

33. Kenny Goldsmith  —wears a two-million-ton crown

34. Donald Hall –new book, Essays After Eighty

35. Mary Oliver –new book, Blue Horses: Poems

36. Charles Wright –2015’s U.S. Poet Laureate

37. Stephen Burt –Harvard critic looking for funny stuff other than Flarf and Conceptualism.

38. Vijay Seshadri –2014 Pulitzer in Poetry

39. Ron Smith –The new poet laureate of the great state of Virginia!  North Carolina still waits…

40. Sherman Alexie –the first poet in BAP 2014. It used to be Ammons.

41. Erin Belieu  –Hilarious poem spoofing Seamus Heaney in her new book, Slant Six

42. Robert Pinsky  –has influence, authority and a lisp

43. Billy Collins –Becoming critically irrelevant?

44. Adam Kirsch –Senior Editor and poetry critic, also saying goodbye to TNR

45. Cornelius Eady  –co-founded Cave Canem.

46. Anne Carson –One of those poets one is supposed to like because they’re a little deeper than you…

47. Lucie Brock-Broido  –Emily Dickinson refuses to be channeled

48. Tony Hoagland  –still smarting from that tennis poem

49. Bob Hicok –He’s the new Phil Levine, maybe?

50. Yusef Komunyakaa –Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993

51. Eileen Myles –Just published a novel about her younger days

52. Sharon Olds  –still glowing from her 2013 Pulitzer win, the book showcasing her exploded marriage

53. D.A. Powell –Studied with Vendler at Harvard

54. Cate Marvin –In BAP 2014 and on fire with p.c indignation.

55. Dean Young  –wants to be the best poet ever—in a late 70s Iowa Workshop sort of way

56. Chris HughesTNR owner: “Despite what has been suggested, the vast majority of our staff remain…excited to build a sustainable and strong New Republic that can endure.”

57. Alan Cordle –changed poetry forever with his Foetry.com

58. George Bilgere  –patiently enduring the Collins comparisons

59. William Kulik –the ‘let it all hang out’ prose poem

60. Amy King –Northern Lesbo Elitist

61. Leah Finnegan –Wrote in Gawker of TNR: “White Men Wrong White Man Placed in Charge of White-Man Magazine.”

62. Jorie Graham –Get ready!  Her Collected is coming!

63. David Kirby –“The Kirb” teaches in Florida; a less controversial Hoagland?

64. Don Share –edits the little magazine that prints lousy poetry and has a perfunctory, cut-and-paste blog

65. Paul Lewis –BC prof leading Poe Revisionism movement

66. Robert Montes –His I Don’t Know Do You made NPR’s 2014 book list

67. Cameron Conaway –“beautifully realized and scientifically sound lyrics” which “calls attention to a disease that kills over 627,000 people a year” is how NPR describes Malaria, Poems 

68. Charles Bernstein –He won. Official Verse Culture is dead. (Now only those as smart as Bernstein read poetry)

69. Richard Howard –Did you know his prose poems have been set to music?

70. Harold Bloom  –He has much to say.

71. Camille Paglia  –Still trying to fuse politics and art; almost did it with Sexual Personae

72. Vanessa Place –This conceptualist recently participated in a panel.

73. Michael Bazzett  —You Must Remember This: Poems “a promising first book” says the New Criterion

74. Matthea HarveyIf the Tabloids Are True What Are You? recommended by Poets.Org

75. Peter Gizzi –His Selected Poems published in 2014

76. Mark Bibbins –Poets.Org likes his latest book of poems

77. Les Murray –New Selected Poems is out from FSG

78. Michael Robbins –writes for the Chicago Tribune

79. Stephen Dunn –The Billy Collins school—Lines of Defense is his latest book

80. Robin BeckerTiger Heron—latest book from this poet of the Mary Oliver school

81. Cathy Linh CheSplit is her debut collection; trauma in Vietnam and America

82. John Gallaher –Saw a need to publish Michael Benedikt’s Selected Poems

83. Jennifer Moxley  –Panelist at the Miami Book Fair International

84. Bob Dylan –Is he really going to win the Nobel Prize?

85. Ann Lauterbach  –Discusses her favorite photographs in the winter Paris Review

86. Fanny Howe –Read with Rankine at Miami Book Fair

87. Hannah Gamble –In December Poetry

88. Marianne BoruchCadaver, Speak is called a Poets.Org Standout Book

89. Anthony Madrid  –His new book is called I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say

90. Robyn SchiffRevolver is not only a Beatles album.

91. Ted GreenwaldA Mammal of Style with Kit Robinson

92. Rachel ZuckerThe Pedestrians is out

93. Dorothea LaskyRome is her fourth book

94. Allan PetersonPrecarious is the new book: “the weed field had been/readying its many damp handkerchiefs/all along.”

95. Adrienne Raphel –“lavender first and by far”

96. Gillian ConoleyPeace is chosen as a Poets.Org Standout Book

97. Barbara Hamby  –“The Kirb” needs to know. She’s not on the list because of him.

98. Katia Kopovich –She coedits Fulcrum with husband Nikolayev.

99. Doc Luben –“14 lines from love letters or suicide notes” a slam poem viewed a lot on YouTube

100. Tracy K. Smith  2012 Pulitzer in Poetry for Life On Mars

HERE’S THE SWEET 16 IN SCARRIET’S 2014 MARCH MADNESS POETRY PHILOSOPHER TOURNAMENT!

Johann Wenzel Peter , Fight of a lion with a tiger , 1809

Here are the Literary Critics worth reading: the Top 16 Who Have Prevailed So Far and Have Made It To the SWEET SIXTEEN!

Every year, Scarriet holds their version of March Madness, with 64 authors competing for the championship.

In 2010, the first year of the tournament, we used every Best American Poetry volume, David Lehman, editor, to determine the field.  Winner: Billy Collins

In 2011, Stephen Berg, David Bonnano, and Arthur Vogelsang’s Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review. Winner: Philip Larkin

In 2012, Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. Winner: Ben Mazer

In 2013, casting about for players, we amassed 64 Romantic poets, including modern and contemporary poets fitting the Romantic mold. Winner: Shelley

This year, Scarriet used the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, William E. Cain, Laurie A. Finke, Barbara E. Johnson, John McGowan, and Jeffrey J. Williams, which has produced a true clash of giants:

Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Sidney, Coleridge, Baudelaire, Marx, Freud, Pater, De Beauvoir, Saussure, T.S. Eliot, etc.

The earth actually shook as the combatants went toe to toe in this year’s March Madness.

The critc-philosophers who made it to the Sweet 16 are:

CLASSICAL

1. PLATO d. Sidney

2. DANTE d. Aristotle

3. POPE d. Aquinas

4. ADDISON d. Maimonides

ROMANTIC

5. WORDSWORTH d. Marx

6. COLERIDGE d. Burke

7. POE d. Peacock

8. SHELLEY d. Emerson

MODERN

9. BAUDELAIRE d. Saussure

10. FREUD d. Benjamin

11. WILDE d. Pater

12. (John Crowe) RANSOM d. T.S. Eliot

POST-MODERN

13. (Edmund) WILSON d. Northrup Frye

14. (J.L.) AUSTIN d. Cixous

15. (Edward) SAID d. De Beauvoir

16. (Harold) BLOOM d. Sartre

Scarriet would ask you not to try this at home: The winners are all white men.

We are really sorry, VIDA.  But when women—or the women presented in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism—only write on women, this narrowness itself contributes to a certain amount of self-marginalizing.

This is a universal problem: if the oppressed are thrown in an intellectual hole, how do they dig themselves out—in a truly broad intellectual fashion?

Perhaps this is why there’s a certain dislike for this kind of competition: the best rises to the top, producing an historical unfairness, given what human history has been.

We see the problem.  We make no apologies, however, for our experiment.

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

JUSTIN BIEBER’S BLACK VALENTINE

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)  might have the best poem in Rita Dove’s 20th Century Poetry Anthology

Did anyone notice that Justin Bieber mentioned Phillis Wheatley on Saturady Night Live last night?

The producers of SNL decided to have a little fun with Justin Bieber, who like many pop stars before him (most famously Elvis Presley and British Invasion blues rock bands) is a white person cashing in on a ‘black vibe’ for an exciting (raunchy?) public appeal.

There’s nothing complicated about this.

It’s the combination all of us want: Safe, yet dangerous: I’m actually very nice—but that doesn’t mean you can  fuck with me. 

Or: I’m blessed with x or y talent—but that doesn’t mean I had it completely easy. 

Or, I’m glorious—but love and sympathize with those not as glorious as I am.

This is the combining that is at the heart of all social activity and all poetry.

Which is why it never gets old.

SNL wryly pointed out that Valentine’s Day occurs during Black History Month, as they had Bieber, in his SNL introduction, wooing girls in the audience with roses and Black History Month facts: “Did you know Maya Angelou invented the peanut?”

One of Black History’s fixtures, Phillis Wheatley lived and died in the 18th century, was a pre-American slave shipped from West Africa by the British to their American colony, was highly educated and became a famous poet while living in Boston in the care of her affectionate master and family.  She wrote poetry like this:

Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

She supported the American Revolution and her work was praised by George Washington.  She was emancipated, married a free black, but died, with two infant children, due to poverty and illness, in 1784.

Phillis Wheatley’s story is complex.

There are lives, and even artistic sensibilities, which shame the easy attempt to profit from combinations put together in too contrived and glib a manner.

Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Centruy American Poetry has been attacked by Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff as being too black.

Vendler complained too many poets—and not enough poems by Wallace Stevens—were included.  This is not even worthy of a response, and Dove was correct not to work up any sort of substantial one.

The Perloff camp wanted more experimental poets in the anthology.

But the experimental crowd couldn’t care less for wonderful poems like the one below, included by Dove in her anthology, written by the African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Vendler doesn’t deserve a response; this will do as a response to Perloff:

Life’s Tragedy

It may be misery not to sing at all
And to go silent through the brimming day.
It may be sorrow never to be loved,
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.

To have come near to sing the perfect song
And only by a half–tone lost the key,
There is the potent sorrow, there the grief,
The pale, sad staring of life’s tragedy.

To have just missed the perfect love,
Not the hot passion of untempered youth,
But that which lays aside its vanity
And gives thee, for thy trusting worship, truth—

This, this it is to be accursed indeed;
For if we mortals love, or if we sing,
We count our joys not by the things we have,
But by what kept us from the perfect thing.

THE END OF RACISM

With the re-election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency, America really seems poised for an end of racism.

Yea, that ugly thing: racism.  Just about over, folks.  Not: Racism is over if you, driving your hybrid, want it.   No: Really and actually over.

Because it’s not something you can argue about.   It’s bigger (or smaller, really) than you—who want it to end.

Let’s not quibble about how much the whole issue is one of perception (it largely is) or how much bad stuff will continue to happen in its name (all kinds of shit will continue to happen in the name of everything).

Support for Obama (if we might make this generalization) does not translate into love for someone who happens to be black, but for success, humanity, family, and common sense as manifested by someone who happens to be black.

Millions and millions of supporters of Obama fault blacks who feel sorry for themselves and feel they are entitled.

Obama Fever is, most importantly, a celebration of black success.  And since even those who did not vote for Obama are on the same page as those who did vote for Obama, that is, in terms of being in favor of success, humanity, family and common sense (to put aside age-old, complex, political disagreements for a moment) we have to say things have never looked rosier for putting this crass, divisive issue (racism) behind us.

In this context, the biggest issue in American contemporary poetry over the past year is Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff’s honest take on Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, published at the end of 2011.  These two distinguished women critics, without much ado, came out and said quite simply: too many blacks included by a black editor.

The world didn’t end, riots didn’t occur; there were no fistfights.  Not even a shouting match.  There were some disagreement in respectable journals.  That was it.

This has to be good news.

Right now there are two strands in American poetry: Perloff’s, who believes, with Ezra ‘Make It New’ Pound, that progress is the most important aspect of poetry, not good poems per se, and Vendler’s, who is more willing to embrace a standard (based more or less on pleasure) against the uncertainties of poetry’s vicissitudes.

Dove was beaten by both these cudgels, accused not only of bean-counting, but sloppy scholarship, and even outright incompetence (in her Anthology  introduction). Vendler and Perloff were severe (nasty, really) in their criticism.

But we find Dove being pretty astute here:

Anthologies are usually arranged chronologically, with the occasional half-hearted attempt to suggest literary movements…Harlem Renaissance, Black Mountain school, the Beats. It’s the proverbial catch-22: Present the poets in sequential order, and each poem touts its wares standing alone, at the expense of knowing the conditions that spawned and nurtured it; one result of this method is that a love poem from 1908 will invariably sound stilted when compared to this month’s similarly inclined but less accomplished lyric. On the other hand, any attempt at a delineation of trends and events coincident with a generation of poets inevitably founders, for there are so many exceptions to whatever grid one tries to superimpose on such living, breathing material: Sara Teasdale was ten years younger than Robert Frost but died thirty years before him, so we’ll never know how she might have evolved as a poet…

Dove clearly knows the issues—Vendler and Perloff could both learn from what is written above, even as we might ask: should the anthologist be that concerned with “movements” and “conditions” and how a poet might have “evolved?”  Shouldn’t the poems speak for themselves, as poems?

Dove is correct; should a “grid” prevail, it’s no longer an anthology.  Dove’s anthology seems to be fretting unnecessarily, though, and yet it is precisely Perloff’s conceptualevolutionary view, which Dove obviously shares, that gives rise to Dove’s concern.  Vendler’s complaint (which Perloff quietly seconded) that Dove included “too many poets” was merely unfair.

We think the assault on Dove finally did not have a big impact because Dove’s selections—especially from the second half of the 20th century—are manifestly weak: here is the elephant in the room, the unspoken issue of which everyone is aware, yet helpless in the face of: how did American poetry become separated from public taste?

Poetry is not primarily theory on a blackboard; it lives or dies in the public arena. When poetry becomes a quibble in the classroom, or a mere affront on taste, it won’t survive in the national consciousness—and in America since about 1930, it (meaning the poems) has not.

The poetry anthology, as an index of poetry at large, appeals to a wide audience, like a national election.

The people have spoken.

The issue is not blackness.

It is success.

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.

W.S.MERWIN V. RITA DOVE

President Obama has Rita Dove going all the way in his Scarriet Poetry Tournament office pool.

Rita Dove will have to defeat M.S. Merwin in the South/Midwest Bracket’s semi-final to make it into the Elite Eight.  Her Penguin 20th Americna Poetry anthology has been the centerpiece of this year’s Scarriet March Madness Tourney—stretching its excitement and thrills into June.  Dove has three poems in her own controversial Penguin anthology and has barged into the Sweet 16 by knocking off young black poets.  Trashed by critics Helen Vendler and William Logan, Dove stands proud thanks to the success of her poems in Scarriet’s Tournament.  But she’ll have to beat the distinguished poet W.S. Merwin to advance.  Merwin brings this poem (from Dove’s anthology) to the table:

FOR THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY DEATH

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

We always feel slightly miffed at Merwin’s lack of punctuation—for whom does it serve?  Does Merwin (like a child) feel no punctuation adds poetic mystique to his work?

The idea of Merwin’s poem is an interesting one—the unknown anniversary of one’s death—and he gives it a fairly cursory treatment.  We are not thrilled by this poem, but we don’t dislike it, except for the reason mentioned above.

Rita Dove picked the following poem of hers for inclusion in her Penguin anthology of poems of the 20th Century:

AFTER READING MICKEY IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN FOR THE THIRD TIME BEFORE BED

I'm in the milk and the milk's in me! ...I'm Mickey!

My daughter spreads her legs
to find her vagina:
hairless, this mistaken
bit of nomenclature
is what a stranger cannot touch
without her yelling. She demands
to see mine and momentarily
we’re a lopsided star
among the spilled toys,
my prodigious scallops
exposed to her neat cameo.

And yet the same glazed
tunnel, layered sequences.
She is three; that makes this
innocent. We’re pink!
she shrieks, and bounds off.

Every month she wants
to know where it hurts
and what the wrinkled string means
between my legs. This is good blood
I say, but that’s wrong, too.
How to tell her that it’s what makes us—
black mother, cream child.
That we’re in the pink
and the pink’s in us.

This is a lovely poem, but we have no idea what “That we’re in the pink/and the pink’s in us” is supposed to signify.  Except for the charm of a mother and young child glimpsed, we have no idea what this poem is trying to do.  Is it pleased with itself that it is somewhat risque’ in content?  We are baffled.

Sorry, Mr. President!  You lose the office pool!

Merwin 88 Dove 69

HERE’S THE SWEET 16!

sweet 16

Before we formally congratulate the Scarriet Sweet 16 poets of 2012, who, pound for pound, are probably the most entertaining poets alive today, the poets least likely to bore you, the poets who simply have a high batting average of poems sure to interest, amuse, or move the common reader—before we congratulate them, we should address the burning issue which always seems to loom over this enterprise: we refer to the poets and readers of poetry who balk at the idea of poetry used as fodder for competition.

First, we would say the competition is the fodder, not the poetry.  The ancient Greeks, who had drama competitions in front of crowds, understood this.

The poetry contest, of which distinguished U.S. poets have so long been a part, is competitive—but since the process of picking winners is shrouded in secrecy, the process does not offend.

But there is absolutely no difference between what Scarriet does with March Madness and what the more distinguished elements of po-biz do with their contests and prizes.

The reason competition offends probably has to do with sex. Sex is all about ‘who is hotter,’ whereas love entails ‘being loved forever for who I am.’   The former creates anxiety, the latter comfort. Love rules morals. All literature has a moral basis.  These unspoken laws are surely the underpinning to the disquiet and protest which greets Scarriet’s attempt to toss poems onto a horse track.

Judgment, or the Critical Faculty, ride the horses, however.  “Judge not” is a moral injunction, not a literary one.  To write is to get on a horse.

Love cannot be escaped when we make moral judgments—but poems are not moral in the same way people are.  We hope the morals of the people are in the poems.  Morals, however, do not make us love poems as poems—which exist apart from human moral issues, simply because they are poems, not people.  This does not mean that poems are not moral, or that poems camot create a moral universe; what it means is that poems themselves are immune to moral concerns.  The decree against poems competing arises from the mistaken idea that poems are morally attached to their authors—they are not; and if they are good poems, this is especially true.  The moral person makes the moral poem, but something happens when the moral travels from the person to the poem—it transforms into something which is no longer moral, even though morals was the impetus.  The objection to poems competing assumes poems are continually creating the moral worlds of their authors in such a manner that they cannot be interrupted from that task, ever.  Which is pure folly.  Those who are really moral persons do not rely heavily on moral attachments between poem and person.  This is my poem, do not touch it! is the sentiment of the moralist who will never write a good poem in the first place.

There are many people who cannot reconcile the fact that morals are both oppressive and good.  But here’s the happy thing about poems.  The good should be present in the person writing the poem, even to an oppressive degree, but once the poem comes into existence, this moral creation, because it is a poem, escapes the oppressive  aspect of morals entirely while still being moral—that is, written by a moral person.  Art is the means by which the moral escapes its oppressive character.

Judging art is not a moral act, but an entirely free act;  judging cannot escape competition; judging cannot escape the horse race, for comparison is always at the heart of the knowing that is judging.  Comparison cannot escape competition. The horses cannot stand still while we judge.

Here they are, most from the Dove anthology, and all living:

EAST: Ben Mazer, Billy Collins, Franz Wright, Mary Oliver,

MIDWEST/SOUTH: Rita Dove, Derek Walcott, W.S. Merwin, Patricia Smith 

NORTH: Phil Levine, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Dunn, Louise Gluck

WEST: Sharon Olds, Matthew Dickman, Heather McHugh, Marilyn Chin 

Congratulations to the winners!

TOPIC-ISM: RITA DOVE V. TERRANCE HAYES

Terrance Hayes in Santa Fe, 15 November 2006

Terrance Hayes: fighting to stay in the Tourney against Penguin Anthology editor, Dove

Poetry can now be about anything, and poetry can now be prose: this is what the ‘modern’ revolution in poetry wrought.

If you can’t write good prose, maybe you can line-break your prose into what might pass as good poetry.

This is the devil’s pact the poets made.

In the 20th century, the poet: uniquely skilled to write poetry was replaced by the topic: what is the poem about?

This occured on both high-brow and middle-brow levels: scholars determined that Byron and Keats and Shelley and Wordsworth were all “Romantic poets” who wrote about “Nature,” and publishers of anthologies divided up their books into categories or topics: Nature, Children, Modernity.

The scholars gradually turned publishers (poetry was soon sold out of, and to, academia) in a self-fulfilling prophecy: poets became less and less interesting to the public as topics took over—the one poet star, Frost, was enveloped by ‘New England Nature Poet’—and academia stepped in to sort out the mighty influx of topics and topic-ism: poets were no longer important; the topics they were writing about were. Ezra Pound, the poet, and Wordsworth, the poet, no longer existed: all that mattered was ‘Nature poet’ and ‘Modern poet’ and to ‘modern people’ why shouldn’t the ‘Modern poet’ because of the vastly interesting ‘topics’ he addressed, be as interesting?  And why shouldn’t topic-ism also be interesting: let all sorts of interesting topics bloom!  And topic-ism needed prose, since prose is better at covering all sorts of nuanced topics, and topic-ism also needed experimental speech, since the topic of a poem was naturally elevated by scholarship to a highly self-conscious level.  The old poets, in this New Order, not only did not exist, they were clumsy and uncouth, old-fashioned, and trapped in topics like ‘Romanticism.’  The unique poet disappeared beneath the avalanche of ‘topic.’

Books of poems are now sold as books on a certain topic, not as books of poems by a poet who writes good poetry.  Good poetry is not even permitted as a term; the topic is all in the eyes of both scholars and publishers.

This is what Helen Vendler was trying to say when she strenuously objected to Rita Dove’s anthology in the New York Review.  Vendler complained there were too many blacks in Dove’s book and also that there were too many poets—that the 20th century did not contain that many good poets.  She was wrong because she put it wrongly: the issue is topic-ism, which haunts us all.

Topic-ism is why poets choose topics with fanatical care and then write dully on them in the safety of lineated prose.  A certain pertinancy-of–topic triumphs—and little else.

In the following contest, between black poet Rita Dove (b. 1952) and black poet Terrance Hayes (b. 1971), the Penguin anthology editor and her youngest poet duel in Scarriet March Madness with poems in the Penguin anthology.

Hayes writes of a 1970s movie starring Diana Ross, which, according to his mother, does not adequately portray Billie Holliday—described by this supposedly insightful poem in a highly cliched manner:

LADY SINGS THE BLUES

Satin luscious, amber Beauty center-stage;
gardenia in her hair. If flowers could sing
they’d sound like this. That legendary scene:
the lady unpetals her song, the only light

in a room of smoke, nightclub tinkering
with lovers in the dark, cigarette flares,
gin & tonic. This is where the heartache
blooms. Forget the holes

zippered along her arms. Forget the booze
Center-stage, satin-tongue dispels a note.
Amber amaryllis, blue chanteuse, Amen.
If flowers could sing they’d sound like this.

———————————————–

This should be Harlem, but it’s not.
It’s Diana Ross with no Supremes.
Fox Theater, Nineteen Seventy-something.
Ma and me; lovers crowded in the dark.

The only light breaks on the movie-screen.
I’m a boy, but old enough to know Heartache.
We watch her rise and wither
like a burnt-out cliche. You know the story:

Brutal lush. Jail-bird. Scag queen.
In the asylum scene, the actress’s eyes
are bruised; latticed with blood, but not quite sad
enough. She’s the star so her beauty persists.

Not like Billie: fucked-up satin, hair museless,
heart ruined by the end.

————————————————

The houselights wake and nobody’s blue but Ma.
Billie didn’t sound like that, she says
as we walk hand in hand to the street.
Nineteen Seventy-something.

My lady hums, Good Morning Heartache,
My father’s in a distant place.

So we learn that Diana Ross was not a perfect Billie Holiday.  (I’m sure she wasn’t.) Who to thank?  Hayes’ mother?

For her own poem, Dove, the editor, has chosen a good topic, gets herself inside it, and sympathetically expresses in prose what we would expect.  There is a certain skill in painting/depiction in the poem, and the feeling is not too overwrought:

CLAUDETTE COLVIN GOES TO WORK

Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown into jail
because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus and
give it to a white person. This is the second time since the
Claudette Colbert [sic] case...This must be stopped.
---BOYCOTT FLIER, DECEMBER 5, 1955

Menial twilight sweeps the storefronts along Lexington
as the shadows arrive to take their places
among the scourge of the earth. Here and there
a fickle brilliance—lightbulbs coming on
in each narrow residence, the golden wattage
of bleak interiors announcing Anyone home?
or I’m beat, bring me a beer.

Mostly I say to myself Still here. Lay
my keys on the table, pack the perishables away
before flipping the switch. I like the sugary
look of things in bad light—one drop of sweat
is all it would take to dissolve an armchair pillow
into brocade residue. Sometimes I wait until
it’s dark enough for my body to disappear;

then I know it’s time to start out for work.
Along the Avenue, the cabs start up, heading
toward midtown; neon stutters into ecstasy
as the male integers light up their smokes and let loose
a stream of brave talk: “Hey Mama” souring quickly to
“Your  Mama” when there’s no answer—as if
the most injury they can do is insult the reason

you’re here at all, walking in your whites
down to the stop so you can make a living.
So ugly, so fat, so dumb, so greasy—
What do we have to do to make God love us?
Mama was a maid; my daddy mowed lawns like a boy,
and I’m the crazy girl off the bus, the one
who wrote in class she was going to be President.

I take the Number 6 bus to the Lex Ave train
and then I’m there all night, adjusting the sheets,
emptying the pans. And I don’t curse or spit
or kick or scratch like they say I did then.
I help those who can’t help themselves,
I do what needs to be done…and I sleep
whenever sleep comes down on me.

Dove 67 Hayes 55

MARCH MADNESS SELECTION: A GLIMPSE INSIDE

Rita Dove: to be young and famous!

The Scarriet editors, with the help of Marla Muse—

Marla Muse: Hi.

Hi, Marla. —are in the process of choosing the 64 poets who will rumble for the championship this year.  How do we choose?

MM: May I speak?

In matters of poetry, the Muse should always speak.

MM: Thank you. Public contests exist for the audience, not the participants.  So we pick big names.

Wait a minute—that doesn’t make any sense!

MM: 63 poets have to lose.  Unknown poets—most of our audience—envy big name poets; our audience is guaranteed to enjoy themselves—and that’s the whole point.

But what’s a “big name” in poetry these days?

MM: Someone born in 1927, like John Ashbery, for instance.

The year Babe Ruth hit 60 homeruns for the New York Yankees.

MM: Don’t try and be poetic.  Don’t distract.  Don’t show off.  Let me make my point.

Sorry, Marla.

MM: Go back a little further. Wallace Stevens was 20, and it was still the 19th century.  But 1927 is probably far back enough.  There are not too many famous poets in Rita Dove’s recent 20th Century Poetry anthology born after 1900.  Before 1900, you’ve got Frost, T.S. Eliot, Edna Millay, E.E. Cummings, and then if you want to throw in Stevens, Williams, Pound, and Stein, you may.  But after 1900—

There’s lots, right?

MM: The bulk were born between 1925 and 1940—old enough to still be living and old enough to have won plenty of awards.  But none are household words, like Robert Frost or E.E. Cummings; none are really famous. Then there’s Billy Collins born in 1941; after that, no one is even close to being famous, not even a little bit.

What a cynical analysis!

MM: You are being sentimental.  Time and fame are not cynical; they just are.  The topic is not poetry, but poets.

And poets are made of flesh.

MM: Exactly.  And Helen Vendler and Rita Dove are flesh and their fight, I feel, was based on age.  Let’s look at the best known poets by decade of birth in Dove’s book:

1860s: Edgar Lee Masters
1870s: Robert Frost
1880s: T.S. Eliot
1890s: E.E. Cummings
1900s: W.H. Auden  (or Theodore Roethke)
1910s: Elizabeth Bishop  (or John Berryman)
1920s: Anne Sexton  (Allen Ginsberg not in Dove’s anthology)
1930s: Amiri Baraka  (Sylvia Plath not in Dove’s anthology)
1940s: Billy Collins
1950s: Rita Dove  (or Jorie Graham)
1960s: Sherman Alexie  (or Joanna Klink)
1970s: Kevin Young

No poet born in the 20th century is famous.  Except maybe Anne Sexton—because she committed suicide.

Marla, that’s depressing.  So the anthologist, Rita Dove, is the most famous American poet born in the 1950s?

MM: Who would you choose instead? Cathy Song?

What about Paul Muldoon?

MM: We speak of fame, here, that is so minute, that a reader holding this anthology in their hands will feel, at that moment, that Rita Dove is the most famous poet born in the 1950s.

OK, I see your point.

MM: The most famous poet in Dove’s anthology born in the ’50s might possibly be Jorie Graham, and born in the 60s?  Jorie Graham’s baby-sitter, Joanna Klink.  Dove, born in 1952, has 40 poets represented in her anthology born between 1880 and 1919—and 26 born between 1950 and 1954; the biggest single group of poets in the anthology were born around the same time as Dove herself, including Iowa classmates, Joy Harjo and Sandra Cisneros.

Interesting.

MM: Finally, Vendler was born in the 1930s, and Amiri Baraka is the best known American poet (from political controversy) born in the 1930s from Dove’s anthology.  Given Vendler’s expressed views on Dove’s Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry in the New York Review of Books that Dove’s anthology was a little too affirmative action, these dates have to make Ms. Vendler wonder.  Poets included, like Walcott, Clifton, and Lourde were also born in the ’30s; Vendler has to travel back to almost the middle of the 19th century to find the birth date of her beloved poet, Wallace Stevens.  This can’t help but make Vendler feel like the game is being lost.

Dove has picked good poems, but that doesn’t change the fact that her anthology feels very much driven by agenda rather than poetry.

MM: We shouldn’t get into that controversy.  Dove couldn’t help what she did, for anthologies are always about poets, not poetry.

LIfe too, is about poets, not poetry.  This is why we need to forgive Dove.

MM: Big names.

Let the games begin!  Stay tuned for the East Brackets.

SCARRIET’S MARCH MADNESS 2012!

IT’S BAAAACKK!!!   SCARRIET’S MARCH MADNESS!!!

The Dove/Vendler clash last year shook all of poetry, and the blood lust to know which poems are best and what kind of poetry is best for society has grown to a fever pitch.  We’ve seen poets fighting poets, poets crowding before windows to glimpse the latest judgement on this issue. Like motorcycles, poets are everywhere!  And they’re noisier and more irrascible than ever!

Given the gravity of the accusations and counter-accusations that have ensued, we the Scarriet editors decided that the best way to settle the disputes was by honest, clean sport.

What the irascible editors and critics cannot resolve, basketball will untie.

If the professors cannot agree on the worthiness of these poems, we will help.  What we propose is nothing less than smashing each poem against a glass backboard and hurling it down the length of a parquet floor.  We can hear the objection: ‘But some poems are too delicate for such treatment.’  We beg to differ.  The poem’s EFFECT may be an evocation of delicacy, but no poem of worth is brought to fruition without bruises, sweat, surreptitious eye-gouging and dramatic faked falls in full view of a ref who is schooled in every genre and philosophical nuance of our time.

Shall the poems competing in March Madness come only from the Dove anthology?

Some will, but the tournament will feature contemporary poems from all over.

Our intrepid reporter, Marla Muse, will continue to bring you interviews and analysis all through March Madness.  She will put this whole Rita Dove/Helen Vendler controversy in perspective for you.  She will dig into the lives, and explore the playing ability, of the participating poets.

We will also use a slightly different format this year, based on feedback from our readers.   We will have 64 competing poets this year, rather than 64 competing poems, so different poems by the competing poets will be featured in each elimination round.

Stay tuned for the bracket listings!

SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

All ye need to know?

1. Rita Dove—Penguin editor reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYRB
2. Terrance Hayes—In Dove’s best-selling anthology, and young
3. Kevin Young—In Dove’s anthology, and young
4. Amiri Baraka—In Dove’s anthology
5. Billy Collins—in the anthology
6. John Ashbery—a long poem in the anthology
7. Dean Young—not in the anthology
8. Helen Vendler—hated the anthology
9. Alan CordleTime’s masked Person-of-the-Year = Foetry.com’s once-anonymous Occupy Poetry protestor?
10. Harold Bloom—you can bet he hates the anthology
11. Mary Oliver—in the anthology
12. William Logan—meanest and the funniest critic (a lesson here?)
13. Kay Ryan—our day’s e.e. cummings
14. John Barr—the Poetry Man and “the Man.”
15. Kent Johnson—O’Hara and Koch will never be the same?
16. Cole Swensen—welcome to Brown!
17. Tony Hoagland—tennis fan
18. David Lehman—fun lovin’ BAP gate-keeper
19. David Orr—the deft New York Times critic
20. Rae Armantrout—not in the anthology
21. Seamus Heaney—When Harvard eyes are smilin’
22. Dan Chiasson—new reviewer on the block
23. James Tate—guaranteed to amuse
24. Matthew Dickman—one of those bratty twins
25. Stephen Burt—the Crimson Lantern
26. Matthew Zapruder—aww, everybody loves Matthew!
27. Paul MuldoonNew Yorker Brit of goofy complexity
28. Sharon Olds—Our Lady of Slightly Uncomfortable Poetry
29. Derek Walcott—in the anthology, latest T.S. Eliot prize winner
30. Kenneth Goldsmith—recited traffic reports in the White House
31. Jorie Graham—more teaching, less judging?
32. Alice Oswald—I don’t need no stinkin’ T.S. Eliot Prize
33. Joy Harjo—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
34. Sandra Cisneros—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
35. Nikki Giovanni—for colored girls when po-biz is enuf
36. William Kulik—not in the anthology
37. Ron Silliman—no more comments on his blog, but in the anthology
38. Daisy Fried—setting the Poetry Foundation on fire
39. Eliot Weinberger—poetry, foetry, and politics
40. Carol Ann Duffy—has Tennyson’s job
41. Camille Dungy—runs in the Poetry Foundation forest…
42. Peter Gizzi—sensitive lyric poet of the hour…
43. Abigail Deutsch—stole from a Scarriet post and we’ll always love her for it…
44. Robert Archambeau—his Samizdat is one of the more visible blogs…
45. Michael Robbins—the next William Logan?
46. Carl Phillips—in the anthology
47. Charles NorthWhat It Is Like, New & Selected chosen as best of 2011 by David Orr
48. Marilyn Chin—went to Iowa, in the anthology
49. Marie Howe—a tougher version of Brock-Broido…
50. Dan Beachy-Quick—gotta love that name…
51. Marcus Bales—he’s got the Penguin blues.
52. Dana Gioia—he wants you to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, so what r u waiting 4?
53. Garrison Keillor—the boil on the neck of August Kleinzahler
54. Alice Notley—Penguin’s Culture of One by this Paris-based author made a lot of 2011 lists
55. Mark McGurl—won Truman Capote Award for 2011’s The Program Era: Rise of Creative Writing
56. Daniel Nester—wrap your blog around my skin, yea-uh.
57. Yusef Komunyakaa—in the anthology
58. Adrienne Rich—in the anthology
59. Jeremy Bass— reviewed the anthology in the Nation
60. Anselm Berrigan—somebody’s kid
61. Travis Nichols—kicked us off Blog Harriet
62. Seth Abramson—poet and lawyer
63. Stephen Dunn—one of the best poets in the Iowa style
64. Philip Levine—Current laureate, poem recently in the New Yorker  Movin’ up!
65. Ben Mazer—Does anyone remember Landis Everson?
66. Reb Livingston—Her No Tells blog rocks the contemporary scene
67. Marjorie Perloff—strutting avant academic
68. John Gallaher—Kent Johnson can’t get enough punishment on Gallaher’s blog
69. Fred Viebahn—poet married to the Penguin anthologist
70. James Fenton—said after Penguin review hit, Dove should have “shut up”
71. Rodney Jones—BAP poem selected by Dove riffs on William Carlos Williams’ peccadilloes
72. Mark Doty—no. 28’s brother
73. Cate Marvin—VIDA and so much more
74. Richard Wilbur—still hasn’t run out of rhyme
75. W.S. Merwin—no punctuation, but no punk
76. Jim Behrle—the Adam Sandler of po-biz
77. Bin Ramke—still stinging from the Foetry hit
78. Thomas Sayer Ellis—not in the anthology
79. Henri Cole—poetry editor of the New Republic
80. Meghan O’Rourke—Behrle admires her work
81. Anne Waldman—the female Ginsberg?
82. Anis Shivani—get serious, poets! it’s time to change the world!
83. Robert Hass—Occupy story in Times op-ed
84. Lyn Hejinian—stuck inside a baby grand piano
85. Les Murray—greatest Australian poet ever?
86. Sherman Alexie—is this one of the 175 poets to remember?
87. Geoffrey Hill—great respect doesn’t always mean good
88. Elizabeth Alexander—Frost got Kennedy, she got Obama
89. A.E. Stallings—A rhymer wins MacArthur!
90. Frank Bidart—in the anthology
91. Robert Pinsky—in the anthology
92. Carolyn Forche—in the anthology
93. Louise Gluck—not in the anthology
94. Keith Waldrop—his Hopwood Award paid her fare from Germany
95. Rosmarie Waldrop—her Hopwood helpled launch Burning Deck
96. C.D. Wright—born in the Ozark mountains
97. Forrest Gander—married to no. 96
98. Mark Strand—translator, surrealist
99. Margaret Atwood—the best Canadian poet of all time?
100. Gary B. Fitzgerald—the poet most likely to be remembered a million years from now

DOVE ASKS VENDLER’S FORGIVENESS BY WAY OF SHAKESPEARE

If thou survive my Black Arts Movement day,
When white critics my choices with smears shall cover,
And thou shalt by fortune once more resurvey
The Penguin Anthology of thy dear editor,
Compare it with the bettering of the time,
And though it be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve it for its hate, not for its rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my Dove’s Muse grown with this groaning age,
A dearer birth than this her hate had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage;
But since she died, and poets better rate,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, hers for her hate.’

Amiri Baraka

Shakespeare Sonnet 32

If thou survive my well-contented day,
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bettering of the time,
And though they be outstripp’d by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
   But since he died and poets better prove,
   Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.’

RON SILLIMAN: CRITICAL COWARDICE.

A billion poems!  A million communities!  Help!

Ron Silliman actually spoke on his blog.

We were beginning to think linking videos was all he cared to do now.

But, in his December 21, 2011 end-of-the-year-reflection post, what the hell is Ron Silliman talking about?

The facts Silliman gives us are simple:

He’s in Rita Dove’s new Penguin anthology of 20th century American poetry (but his friend Rae Armantrout is not) and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked him to pick the best poetry books of 2011.

Great.

He’s blown away by the number of works in English (from around the world) that are published each year, and how much that number has grown in the last half-century, and he points how much stress this puts on gate-keepers and critcs.

Fine.

But then Silliman enters the crackpot zone:

Even in the 1980s, the national boundaries between different national brands of English-language poetry were becoming more tangled by the minute. What, after all, made Tom Raworth a British poet, Steve McCaffery Canadian, or David Bromige, Alan Davies or Anselm Hollo American? One might trace this intermingling back to Stein in Paris or even to Pound’s stint as Yeats’ secretary, but wherever one draws that line, the rise of the world wide web has obliterated such borders pretty much for good. In 2011, I think it’s safe to say that the only national literature produced in English that isn’t widely read in the United States is that of Nigeria. It’s just a matter of time before the division ceases to be national altogether – a world literature complemented by / balanced against multiple regional or metropolitan scenes, as well as a mind-numbing range of affiliational aesthetics, from ecopoetics to LGBT to crip poetry and beyond. Hybridity? Nomadism? You bet.

The whole premise of whittling down a “best of” list into ten or 50 or even the 175 names posed by Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry is that there is some transcendent single point-of-view from which the dozens, if not hundreds, of communities that engage with poetry can be represented by some single shared set of values. That is simply not true. It is insane, if not overtly racist, to suggest, for example, that Robert Lowell represents some pinnacle of literary value while Langston Hughes does not. But it is equally insane, if not overtly racist, to suggest that Hughes represents such a pinnacle & that Lowell does not. Any professor or critic who might argue either of those positions would be manifestly guilty of malpractice and intellectual fraud. At best.

The truth is that each represents a pinnacle of value that expresses the perspective of some specific community. One might argue about the nature of these communities, their size, their relative histories and power – Lowell doesn’t represent the 1% any more than Hughes does the 99 – but it is only when viewed through the eyes of their community that we can actually see the values in their writing rise “self-evidently” to the surface. And it is only when they are put into the far larger complex of conflicting communities that is the United States – let alone the English language – that we can begin to discover what is truly revelatory about all kinds of verse: the ways they lead us right back to real communities.

It’s ironic that Silliman calls both the Vendler and the Dove camps “insane”—because compared to them, Silliman is more so.

According to Silliman, “the rise of the world wide web” erases “national boundaries” yet expands “community boundaries.”

Silliman wants us to believe that because there is an ever-growing number of people speaking English to each other, we are separated from each other more than ever.

We all speak English in a global conversation, and this global conversation, which has dissolved national borders, this mighty homogeneity thanks to the world wide web, has produced an English conversation in which, poetically, no one can talk to each other, because this poet sitting in a Cincinnatti Starbucks with his Mac is gay and that poet sitting in a New York subway with his PC is not.

Silliman’s wants there be no heterogeneity within his various “communities,” and, at the same time complete heterogeneity within the English-speaking world at-large.

Silliman has not figured out how to apply homogeneity and heterogeneity to the world, and on what scale, and to what purpose, and yet he does so, willy-nilly, and, as he fails to see the miserable arrogance of his agenda, he is certain that any attempt to unite poetry by using any sort of judgment whatsoever is completely tainted by “racism” and “insanity.”  This from a guy who says of Robert Lowell and Langston Hughes:  “only when viewed through the eyes of their community [can we] actually see the values in their writing rise “self-evidently” to the surface.”  Are you kidding me?  

No wonder Silliman asserts the powerlessness and uselessness of critics before the all-mighty mass of “communities.” 

He has no critical insight himself.  

This is why poetry has become a vain and trivial exercise.   Silliman’s cowardice before the rock-hard existence of Robert Lowell can be summed up thusly: Robert Lowell can only be appreciated by Robert Lowell’s “community,” hence we as critics must defer to Robert Lowell’s “community”—no matter if universality suffer as a result.  The critic is helpless before the “community” of Robert Lowell.  Robert Lowell’s “community” is what counts, not his poems.

Plato’s “Republic,” in which each part is based on its use to the greater whole, is replaced by Silliman’s tribe-war, in which any concept of the “greater good” is suspect, and Silliman believes in his model because 1) There’s just too much to read and 2) The positions of Vendler and Dove are racist, and any attempt to reconcile the positions of Vendler and Dove with any type of Criticism is automatically even more racist.

To make it even clearer: when reading poetry, the unique requires the universal, and Silliman doesn’t seem to understand that one cannot find the universal in a tribe or a country or a community.  The universal is just that: universal.

Think about this: two major poetry camps in the U.S. in the form of two distinguished authors, Rita Dove and Helen Vendler, are calling each other racist, and Ron Silliman, the ‘outsider’ third pole in the contemporary American poetry equation (yet included in Dove’s 20th century anthology) comes upon their poetry anthology quarrel and says categorically that both their positions are racist.   

Is this what happens in a highbrow art world ruled by “communities?”

We understand the local scenester wants to carve out a poetic identity and when they do, it’s laudable, for it gives poetry a local habitation and a name: the San Francisco scene, or the Detroit scene.  But these “scenes” are finally illusionary.  They have nothing to do with the place, for the “scenesters” themselves are often from other places, and the actual influences on the poetry have nothing to do with the locals—in place or time.  Critics can sniff out the local coffee shops or the local flora, but the anthropology of poetry only takes one so far.  And what happens when the writing doesn’t match “the community?”  Does that make the writing invalid?  

The New Critics focus on the poem, the Romantics, on the poet, and these both have advantages, for reasons too numerous to name; but what is this obsession with “community” all about?  It’s petty, trivial, and stupid, finally; it presupposes a whole host of things in relation to the poetry which simply don’t exist.  

Silliman’s approach to poetry is birdwatching with no birds.

THE BEWITCHED CRITIC

Helen Vendler suffered a mortal blow to her reputation recently.  The Harvard professor and renowned critic viciously attacked the poet Rita Dove for her Penguin anthology of 20th century American poetry (2011): Too many poets, too many black poets, and not enough Wallace Stevens.  It is almost as if Vendler had been set up, had stepped into an ambush; Vendler’s humiliation hurts because it hurts today’s poetry, so well-known in poetry circles is Ms. Vendler.

Vendler seemed secure in her position as Queen Aesthete—no axe to grind; motivated merely by a disinterested love of poetry and its pleasurable complexities; if she seemed the Critic of the Concert Hall and not the Street,  this made her seem  all the more untouchable, like a great concert musician with skills pure and admirable.  Her instrument has always been made of praise; her close-reading insights always elevated the poetic labors of whomever she chose to read; even mechanical skill became a philosophy for every poet she touched, whether it was Seamus Heaney or Jorie Graham, Shakespeare, Keats or Stevens or Yeats.

Every minor poet needs at least one critic like Vendler in order to stay alive; she can make a lyric seem an epic of complexity, a mere quatrain burst with as many stories as a novel.  She is one of those critics who can almost turn a minor poet into a major one. 

There’s only one problem with Vendler, who learned from her New Critic masters to stoke small kindling so it blazes into major conflagrations with the close-reading ironies of the magnifying glass. 

The first rule of Criticism is: Find Fault.  The freshman composition student usually has nothing of interest to say when confronted with a major poem because they are too nice to say anything bad about a major poem.  And if the young student is encouraged not to be intimidated, and to say what’s really on their mind, they will usually blurt out something like: “I would tell Shakespeare (in the Sonnets) not to waste his time with this obsession for the young man!”  And we smile, even if this practical advice might have some merit, on a certain level.

Vendler has no such inhibitions.  Vendler’s jungle of praise can grow anywhere.  Its flowers soar, its vines sing.

Vendler is one of those critics who can easily find in a poem more than even the poet knew; for example, here she is unpacking the third quatrain of Shakespeare’s sonnet #116:

The third quatrain departs from its function as reinscription of the second in considering the merit of the young man’s view. It begins by keeping up the vehemence of refutation, remaining within the debater’s genre; but suddenly, a new concessive appears as one had earlier—in line 8’s although his heighth be taken. The young man is granted another point. Something in fact, it is true, is removed; something, it is granted, comes into the bending compass of the sickle. The thing that the young man values, that he has in mind with his occluded talk of “alteration” and “removes,” turns out to be physical beauty, rosy lips and cheeks, which, it is conceded, fall to Time’s sickle. The speaker cannot deny the actual truth of those removals, but the concession is a painful one. The young man, even though concealing his motives behind his euphemizing vagueness, has been exposed (by this unpacking-by-reiteration of his very words alters and bends) as a man in thrall to the sensual bloom of youth; when he sees the sickle bend, he must, he has said, bend with it, remove himself when he sees beauty removed, and find another as-yet-unreaped beauty. (The speaker’s tenderness toward the young man forbids his showing narratively, or in prophecy, the destruction of sensual beauty in the young man; he admits here only the general law, that within the compass of the sickle all sensual beauty falls.)

This kind of criticism can run the gamut from brilliant to is this even necessary? 

Note how thoroughly Vendler gets inside “the young man’s” head; the young man is not even hinted at in sonnet #116.  He doesn’t exist.

Shakespeare’s sonnet #116, “Let Me Not To The Marriage of True Minds” is a major sonnet by a major poet, and major poets, by definition, make an impact directly on the public; they require no Vendler, and if any poet did require a Vendler, that poet surely would not be understood until a Vendler “discovered” them.  Imagine you are a poet, and one of your quatrains, in order to be understood, necessitated a gloss like the one above.  Vendler over-explains Shakespeare, and thus falls short of Shakespeare’s intention, and here is a paradox of Criticism; Vendler covers #116 in superfluity; her appreciative fecundity mars the major impulse even as it caresses its subject with suffocating adoration.  Such “reach” is only necessary to prop up lesser poems. It is a truism that if a poem suceeds, criticism crumbles before it, leading one to cry, “I like it!”  “Beautiful!” “Did you see what that poem did? Yes.”

Even if we grant Vendler’s criticism of Shakespeare’s sonnets is useful; how useful?  How much do Shakespeare’s sonnets need Vendler’s criticism?  If we reply that Vendler’s criticism needs Shakespeare more than Shakespeare needs Vendler’s criticism (and I would guess even Vendler couldn’t but agree) it begs the question: is there wretched poetry somewhere Vendler could rescue, so that Vendler would be more valuable to it, than it is to her?

But when should Criticism ever save the poet, except to overturn prior abusive Criticism?   Why should Shakespeare, or Wallace Stevens, or anyone, save Helen Vendler?  What is the relationship between Vendler and her poets?  If the poets don’t need Vendler, why do we need Vendler?  If Vendler—as with Sonnet #116—makes much ado about nothing, perhaps we need to be saved from her?

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.

If Wallace Stevens is untrustworthy as a poet—if he sounds wise, but is not, should we even allow a critic like Vendler to expound on Stevens—that is, if we wish to keep our sanity?

CAT FIGHT! VENDLER GOES AFTER DOVE!

More Wallace Stevens!  Please!

Helen Vendler is obviously peeved Penguin Books chose Rita Dove over her to edit its big fat anthology of 20th century American  poetry (October 2011).

Vendler is so obviously upset in her NYRB review of the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry that she faults Dove for including too many poets.

175 poets is too many, Vendler scolds.  But professor Vendler, the book is 600 pages! 

“No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading,” Vendler sniffs.   

The two volume Library of America American Poetry-The Twentieth Century, just over 2,000 pages, features over 200 poets.  Is Vendler really prepared to name Library of America poets “not worth reading?”  The LOA anthology ends with May Swenson (b. 1913).  Just imagine, then, how many 20th century poets are “not worth reading!”

If we are really interested in the work of a major poet or two, there’s ample opportunity to attend that banquet; isn’t the point of an anthology the wide sweep?   Summarizing an age, including the famous poets and the famous poets of that age—surely this can be done by being inclusive, as well? 

Vendler begins her review of Dove in an odd way:

Twentieth-century American poetry has been one of the glories of modern literature. The most significant names and texts are known worldwide: T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Hart Crane, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop (and some would include Ezra Pound).

First, why does she say “has been one of the glories of modern literature?”  Why not say “is one of the glories of modern literature,” especially if she feels so strongly about it?  Secondly, why does she say “some would include Ezra Pound,” as if no other difference of opinion is permitted.  Some would include Edna St. Vincent Millay, wouldn’t they?  Or not Robert Lowell?  What was Lowell’s most famous poem, again?  Something about a skunk?  Or an aquarium?  But let’s not interrupt Vendler’s revery.

Next, Vendler speaks to the issue of the blacks:

Rita Dove, a recent poet laureate (1993–1995), has decided, in her new anthology of poetry of the past century, to shift the balance, introducing more black poets and giving them significant amounts of space, in some cases more space than is given to better-known authors. These writers are included in some cases for their representative themes rather than their style. Dove is at pains to include angry outbursts as well as artistically ambitious meditations.

But Vendler shouldn’t get so excited.  Increasing the number of poets is bound to increase the number of black poets.  And why do better-known authors need more space?  We don’t read anthologies to go deeply into a poet.  The better-known don’t always have a lot of material, anyway, and it would be a shame to leave out a wonderful poem in order to include a lesser effort by someone better-known. 

Richard Ellman, editor of the 1976 The New Oxford Book of American Verse, includes only 55 20th-century poets (in about the same amount of pages as Dove’s 175) which is more Vendler’s speed, with generous helpings of E.A. Robinson (“Luke Havergal?” Does anyone like “Luke Havergal?”), Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, WC Williams, Ezra Pound, H.D, Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, E.E. Cummings, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Theodore Roethke, Robert Lowell, A.R. Ammons, among others.  Ellman, the distinguished Oxford professor and prize-winning biographer of Yeats and Joyce, ends his 1076 page Oxford anthology with 9 poems by Imamu Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones).   So, you know, been there, done that.

Richard Ellman, the only man in the universe who seriously claimed to understand Finnegan’s Wake, includes no Edna Millay (or Elinor Wylie or Amy Lowell) in his anthology. 

No Edna Millay??

Scarriet has written of this previously: the Emerson/Pound/Eliot Modernist Men’s Club, and Ellman clearly belonged to it, as did Ellman’s friend and Oxford Book of American Verse predecessor, F.O. Matthiessen, professor at Harvard (when Ashbery, Bly and Creeley were there) who attempted to write Poe out of the American canon with his American RenaissanceVendler doesn’t care for Poe, either, and the Oxford anthology (with more Jones Very than Poe, and every poem Ralph Waldo Emerson ever wrote) is a great example of what an anthology of American poetry would look like from her—all we have to do is replace Baraka with Jorie Graham—and there you go.

This is the Vendler American Poetry Anthology plan: 31 poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 70 poems by Emily Dickinson, 33 poems by Frost, 26 poems by WC Williams, 18 poems by Robinson Jeffers, 23 poems by E.E. Cummings, 19 poems by Robert Lowell, and 265,000 poems by Wallace Stevens.

We’ll take Rita Dove and her 175 poets any day.

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!

%d bloggers like this: