MODERNISM, OR COLLAPSE-CHIC

John Quinn: Contemporary Collector Extraordinaire - American Book Collecting
Joyce, Pound, QUINN, Ford Madox Ford, Paris 1923

John Quinn (1870-1924) attorney for Pound and Eliot, modern art collector, and the guy who made the Armory Show (1913) happen, is a neglected but important figure from the American Midwest who ended up working for British intelligence and upon his death was in possession of the original manuscript of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” with all the valuable cross outs and edits. The following is a conversation with my literary friend, X___ and you can see how it inspired this Scarriet article; I’ve decided to let the inspiration be seen in its raw form. I came up with the phrase “Collapse Chic” during the conversation with my brilliant acquaintance. Some things are best dropped right from the tree onto the grass:

He must have meant something to TSE for Tom to give Quinn the ms. The Reid bio of Quinn won the Pulitzer, talks of British intelligence and Aleister Crowley and Tammany Hall (Horace Greeley, Poe’s enemy, was also mixed up with Tammany corruption). The book of all books on Modern Letters 1850 to 1950 waits to be written. I’m too lazy to write it.

“No, it is simply a financial transaction. Quinn was collecting, and the ms. obviously meant less to TSE than the dough. Back then, collecting mss. of living authors was somewhat rare.”

Do we know how much, or whether money even changed hands? We always focus on the authors themselves in terms of making their own reputations, but I see it differently. I believe it’s people like Quinn “behind the scenes” with money and connections and legal expertise who are driving the car, not TS Eliot. My guess is that timid and doubtful Eliot was only too happy to give the ms. to Quinn as the best guarantee of his legacy. It was Quinn who negotiated deals for Pound and Eliot. Pound was still editing The Waste Land when it won the Dial Prize. It was a fait accompli. And these sorts of things happened because guys like Quinn know how to stack the deck. Quinn wasn’t collecting modern art out of love. Nor was John Dewey. “Love” of the “new” in Modernist circles was simply what they call “buy low and sell high.” Quinn was not purchasing the ms. from Eliot as some starry-eyed fan. Eliot was beholden to Quinn. Of course literary professors with 20/20 hindsight will disagree with me. But they might be wrong…

…I just looked it up. Eliot wanted no money—he gave his ms. to Quinn as a means to “preserve” it (Pound’s edits needed to be preserved was Eliot’s “reason”—I think it was probably more so that one could see some beautiful lines by Eliot which Pound nixed. Eliot trusted the worldliness of Quinn; he was hedging his bets.) Quinn as a matter of honor nevertheless gave Eliot $140.00. It was later sold by Quinn’s niece for much more.

“I think Eliot could easily have entertained both reasons. He had a complicated and many-layered mind–and he was not above naivete. Remember, too, that he was shocked and appalled by Pound’s scheme to have a bunch of people back Eliot with the equivalent of his salary for five years. Remember, too, that the manuscript was of the greatest poem of the Moderns.”

It was clear Eliot had talent, but I doubt anyone thought The Waste Land was going to be a best-seller. It was either Pound’s way (hitting up wealthy dames) or the American way—teaching writing, a career European literati thought beneath them. Turned out the Americans knew best: the New Critics getting the new writing (and Frost) into the schools was a fortuitous path, probably easier than getting Duchamp and modern art into museums. Looking back it’s hard to know what was inevitable and what took real work and scheming.

“Of course many plans for plumping this author or that have come to nothing. (Delmore Schwartz thought Genesis was surefire and kept warning [James] Laughlin that there was a “conspiracy” against him.) The Waste Land, however, had fairly robust criticism against, but college students took to it rapidly. Probably it spoke to their feelings about the collapse of culture after the war. Now we have Amanda Gorman for that.”

Who prevents the “collapse of culture,” though? If The Waste Land deftly reflects “collapse;” like the dyer’s hand, it participates in it. And should all poets & artists go on reflecting & recording the “collapse of culture,” until the “collapse of culture” accelerates the world into Gorman and illiteracy? My problem with Modernism (as brilliant as guys like Eliot were) is that it finally marks collapse and collapse only, unless you think the Cantos or 4 Quartets or Finnegans Wake will save us (I doubt it). Schwartz, like my parents, were haunted by Adlai Stevenson’s loss. Delmore was also angered by Pound’s Bollingen, but to me Schwartz (with Berryman, Jarrell, Lowell) represents the next generation dragged down by Modernist “collapse-chic.” There was nothing great or noble to inherit, just estrangement, and not a good, revenge-of-hope, Romantic kind of estrangement, just undisciplined, resigned, half-hearted Marxist, literary-pretentious, estrangement.

“I don’t think anyone can stop a Gorman, who answers a felt need. There have always been poets like her, and they’ve usually been forgotten very quickly. / Honestly, I don’t worry about whether poetry is or isn’t contributing to collapse. It can only reflect its times–well, or badly. Im glad to have Frost to appreciate, and glad to have TSE, EP, Moore, Stevens, and WCW.”

“Collapse-Chic,” which grew out of our Quinn conversation will be the next pro-Romantic, anti-Modernist Scarriet rant. Collapse-chic propelled the Modernists and their Waste Land flagship— but conflagration followed in its wake, a “burnt ends” prophecy. The only public splash poem since has been “Howl.” Talk about Collapse-chic. Plath/Sexton. The gibberish of Ashbery and Black Mountain, Jorie Graham, billions of forgettable workshop poems. Surely I can’t deny your “what is, is” philosophy; I embrace it every day. TSE is miles better than EP (who had his translating, lyric moments) Moore (meh) Stevens (Keats-lite, fun sometimes, I’ll admit) WCW (never liked). Tending that coterie will be a progressively lonely island in the years ahead, a black mountain head sticking out of a vast, politically correct, sea. I’m putting my money in Plato-Dante-Shelley (Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Pushkin, Heine, Tennyson, Whitman, Dickinson, TSE, Millay, Bishop, Justice, Larkin, Mazer).

“Can’t argue with many on that list at the end, though my mansion has more flats.”

And there ends the essential conversation which produced Collapse-Chic. I could have added hundreds more poets to my list and my literary friend many, many more, obviously.

Who is my literary friend? I will never tell. He might be English, you say?

Romantic poems by the dead have been my tarot cards, telling me how to act.

Books have been nearly my all. But the living occasionally amuse. I amused myself by handing Camille Paglia a poem of mine out of respect for her; what an idiot I could be!

Has poetry made me an idiot?

Am I part of this “collapse” which I am perhaps too arrogantly advertising? Yes, indeed. I think we are all in its net. Letters has become primitive. Don’t let the “sophistication” of a Charles Olson or any avant poet, or long-winded novelist, fool you. Letters is primitive now compared to the 19th century. Maybe this “collapse” is a good thing, or something necessary to go through for the sake of a “revolution.” I doubt it. I just think it’s a collapse. We may as well admit it.

I have had the good fortune to interact with the best literary minds of the last 100 years, all by accident, really. Paul Engle. I remember him quoting Yeats to me, “If it doesn’t sing, it doesn’t talk!” Paul Engle was a man of great energy and force. Donald Justice was sensitive and kind. Engle, when I knew him, was at Iowa’s International Writing Program—where I interned as an Iowa student. Engle retired and left the famous Iowa Workshop to poets like quick Marvin Bell and calm Donald Justice, among others; Engle confided to me he wasn’t impressed by the new generation; Paul hosted 30 writers lavishly in Iowa City (including stipends to travel the U.S.) every year: dignified female writers from Norway, slovenly writers, European frankness, Egyptian cigarettes, Indian song moments, at the Mayflower hotel in Iowa City! In Harvard Square, Helen Vendler laughing in my face when I asked her about Poe. I told Galway Kinnell after a reading at the Longfellow House that his poem on Shelley was mean, after I told him “When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone” was his best poem. I informed Harold Bloom at a book signing he was unfair to Poe and surprised when he said, in a melancholy tone, “yes I was intolerant.” I witnessed Philip Nikolayev politely destroy the great critic Marjorie Perloff in a concrete poetry debate at the Hong Kong restaurant. Life moves fast, but so does Letters. Be careful what you say. There are so many reasons to be forgotten.

The Collapse may include the collapse of you, as infinitely chic as you are.

EZRA POUND AND THE SPIRIT OF GOOD BEHAVIOR.

The Spirit of Romance | Ezra POUND

Ezra Pound in The Spirit of Romance, scholarly ruminations published in London when he was 25 by the cream of 1890s Fabian/Yeatsian literary society in 1910 informs us that the style of 19th century Romanticism in poetry (“spirit of romance”) can be found in classic ancient texts.

Well duh. Plato and the ancients, Provencal and Dante, fed Romanticism. We all know this. It’s a truism. Re-discovery of Plato, Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare defines Romanticism.

Everyone also knows Pound has a tendency to rant. Unlike his other jottings gathered into what might be called works of criticism, The Spirit of Romance is relatively sane. In this work he quotes a lot of medieval poetry (equal or surpassing in length his own commentary), declares Dante and Shakespeare top dogs of the poetry world, and questions the worth of Whitman, deriding the former’s optimism in comparison to Villon’s earthy pessimism—this rather mundane observation is as surly as Pound gets. He does voice an unsupported antipathy to Petrarch. So, the weirdness is there, even in this early work of criticism (his prose becomes increasingly crazy—albeit interesting—as he ages) The soon-to-be Vortex Master and Traitor is practicing to appear scholarly. People will do this occasionally in Letters. Even Pound.

I’m afraid it won’t be very entertaining to skewer Pound in The Spirit of Romance—where he somewhat behaves himself. Pound must have said to himself at a young age: “I may as well put together one respectable book of prose.” This was good for his future reputation: to have one sane book of prose to go with his early lyrics (good, if uneven) and his “Cantos” (very uneven).

In this work he does say odd things.

“The history of literary criticism is largely the history of a vain struggle to find a terminology which will define something.” Pound does not tell us who is writing (vainly) this “history of literary criticism.” It is Pound, perhaps.

“Certain qualities and certain furnishings are germane to all fine poetry; there is no need to call them either classic or romantic.”

Pound, here again, states the obvious. But a couple of pages later he contradicts himself:

“Speaking generally, the spells or equations of ‘classic’ art invoke the beauty of the normal, and spells of ‘romantic’ art are said to invoke the beauty of the unusual.”

Coleridge and Poe have already said all that needs to be said on classical balance and romantic strangeness.

Pound, however, being Pound, is quick to equate Romantic excess with the “barbaric.” Four pages later: “the barbaric and the Gothic mind alike delight in profusion” and here Pound adds a footnote: “Spanish point of honor, romanticism of 1830, Crime passionnel down to Sardou and the 90’s, all date from the barbarian invasion, African and oriental inflow on Mediterranean clarity.” No surprise that Pound, like his American predecessor, Emerson, (“English Traits”) learnedly indulges in a certain amount of poisonous cultural commentary, sticking it to large ethnic populations.

In this first chapter of his book, which focuses on The Golden Ass by Apuleius (b. 125 A.D.) Pound describes the childish “romantic” literature he despises: “The mood, the play is everything; the facts are nothing.” Perusing The Golden Ass, “you read, as a child who has listened to ghost stories goes into a dark room; it is no accurate information about historical things that you seek, it is the thrill which mere reality would never satisfy.”

In chapter two, Pound quotes the splendid poet Arnaut Daniel profusely; Pound’s enthusiasm for grownup medieval literature helps him build his case against the so-called child-like Romantics, Shakespeare, and fantastical, populist literature of all kinds—a daring critical gambit.

Mr. Pound, in the final analysis of his career, is half-a-scholar and half-a-poet; sane prose and popular fiction to flesh out his accomplishments may be lacking, but his principled devotion to literary “reality” makes him a lightning rod for learned-literature-no-one-reads, literature eventually happily subsidized by the government in the schools, thanks to Pound’s allies, the well-connected and well-funded New Critics.

Pound’s scholarly weight rests almost entirely on translation—this is problematic (leaving aside Pound’s issues generally) when it comes to popular poetry in English.

Here is Pound in chapter two:

“Daniel’s poetry is more likely to claim interest than a record of opinions about it. His canzone, which Dante cites among the models of most excellent construction, opens:

Sols sui qui sai lo sabrafan quem sorts
Al cor d’amor sofren per sobramar…

Only I know what over-anguish falls
Upon the love-worn heart through over-love…”

Edgar Poe elevated American letters in a number of ways; going back in time to examine other tongues and their translations was not one of them; Pound filled a niche precisely in this manner—which is why, perhaps, if you like Pound, you won’t like Poe (Harold Bloom’s formula—NYR 10/11/84—was: if you like Emerson, you won’t like Poe).

Poe aimed at the common reader—not scholars, and this choice shouldn’t be an issue for anyone, especially since the pedagogy of Poe had an educational motive. Poe famously said “poetry is a passion, not a study.” Pound shows a similar spirit when he says above in discussing Daniel, “…the poetry is more likely to claim interest than a record of opinions about it…” Ironically, Pound then presents a translation—which is not the poetry—it’s Daniel in English prose—as well as the original, which for the lay reader is not poetry, either, since it is in a foreign language. One of Ezra’s favorite tactics is to use foreign languages (in which he lacked fluency) to talk down to his readers: “It will be helpful to compare Shakespeare to French prose, and if you don’t know French…” Pound may earn points as a scholar, but the common reader loses out.

Modernism is defined by its internationalism—seen most, perhaps, in scholarly interest which naturally results in prose translation—which conveniently overlaps with its production of original poetry—in prose.

The translator inevitably fails at poetry—even as, per his meticulous scholarship, he wins at it, since translation is a failure to produce the genuine article; translation, by its very nature fails, because it is a record of content and form standing apart. The translation scholar perpetuates the very division all original poets dread: the failed poem, but manages to do so in a context of linguistic supremacy. Even the fluent translator is a victim of translation’s sword. As Pound himself says in chapter four, among a great deal of translated passages from El Cid: the “interest is archeological rather than artistic.”

Why was Pound so interested in love poetry from centuries ago? Similar sentiments expressed by poets in English from his own time—the 19th and 20th centuries—receive from him nothing but scorn. Amazingly, however, he says a couple of passing nice things about Shelley in The Spirit of Romance. Yes, I know. Who is this guy, Pound?

The sentimental can sometimes sound more poised translated into prose—especially to those, like Pound and William Logan, averse to the sentimental. Translation courts the technical and superficial, which naturally eats away at feeling; at one remove, sighs and tears are more excused, and may even be embraced in a scholar’s historical context. Arnaut Daniel is not really blubbering; it only seems that way in the translated English prose (or English verse, if the translator is more daring).

The common English-speaking reader finds in Frost or Poe accents they can fully grasp—nor can the high learning of translators match the common reader’s experience of Frost or Poe—whatever kind of translated poetry or terminology. Society—since most of its citizens are not scholars—requires populist poetry. Highbrows often forget this. Frost, not Pound; Poe, not Emerson, inspire the vast amount of readers. There’s no need to choose sides—but as we know, poets and scholars, especially the ambitious ones, are as turf-driven as any animal in the wild. Thus Henry James and T.S. Eliot called Poe “immature,” “primitive;” Emerson called Poe “the jingle man.”

The polite, patient grownup—or the inspired, excitable, child—both of these contribute to Letters; if Poe lifts up the middle-brow (or the low-brow), surely this is just as important as Pound tickling the fancy of the foreign language dilettante.

And if Poe appeals to the high-brow (and he certainly does) and also sells more books, it’s silly to begrudge that.

Poets and critics should put personal differences aside.

Society and poetry—it is no exaggeration to say—depend on it.

THE TEXTBOOK WHICH CHANGED IT ALL—UNDERSTANDING POETRY

Yale University Staff - YACOLF19 Understanding Poetry

“The subject is exceedingly simple; one tenth of it, possibly, may be called ethical; nine tenths, however, appertain to the mathematics” –The Rationale of Verse- EA Poe

If you are reading this, it is almost a certainty that your ideas on poetry have been directly or indirectly shaped by this book. If you have anything to do with American poetry, this brief essay is about you.

England produced some pretty good poets—Milton, Byron, Keats—at a time when Greek and Latin was the only literature taught in school. It wasn’t until Matthew Arnold’s advocacy in the late 19th century and the publication of the widely used school textbook Understanding Poetry (Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, 1938, 1950, 1960, 1976) in the United States, that anything like contemporary poetry actually entered school rooms. In the wake of this crude, hysterical, pistol-shootin’, Southern boy, bombastic, textbook, the most force-fed canon in the history of Letters since the King James bible, the poetry of Longfellow, Poe, Dunbar and Millay, which the public adored, was chased from the academy forever.

The only “professional” poetry, after the appearance of Understanding Poetry, was poetry stamped with the approval of the textbook’s authors and their friends.

The term, “professional,” as used by CIA funded John Crowe Ransom in his essays on what he termed “Criticism, Inc.” or “Criticism, Ltd.,” published at this time, was not meant to elevate the vocation of poetry in general, but to pave the way for a clique’s attempt to separate themselves out as the only authority.

It is a cliché by now to say that everything is political. I will show that the textbook Understanding Poetry was nothing but an embarrassing, slipshod, power grab by a connected bunch of radical cowboys. Understanding Poetry, a nicely-sewn hardcover from Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, is anti-historical, extremely judgmental, and illogical. Nothing about it is actually “professional.”

Understanding Poetry looks at only one poem by Edgar Poe—to mock it.

Here is what it says about “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer’s iconic poem: “This poem has been very greatly admired by a large number of people. But it is a bad poem.”

Adelaide Anne Procter—one of only a few women selected for analysis by the authors (the book is at least 95% male)—is treated this way:

Even though the work of Adelaide Procter, who is known now only as the author of “The Lost Chord,” was once greatly admired by Charles Dickens, most modern readers of poetry would find this poem bad. Most readers who admire it probably do so because they approve of the pious sentiment expressed in it. Such readers go to poetry merely to have their own beliefs and feelings flattered…

The authors are anxious to create a schism in poetry.

The “Red Wheel Barrow” (which they unequivocally praise) contains nothing so obvious as a sentiment or an idea—therefore it is now, within the context of the textbook authors’ mandate, safe to like. It is the authors who sniff out a “pious sentiment” in Procter’s poem, “The Pigrims,” which as a poetry textbook subject, deserves to be treated as a poem. Procter’s poem uses a number of literary elements—rhythm, rhyme, imagery, and contrast in a perfectly competent manner. The problem the “professional” authors have with this poem is their problem: as New Critics, they cannot get beyond the simple fact that every poem under the sun will express either some kind of sentiment (which can be summarized or paraphrased) or none at all. The theme of “The Pilgrims” is: Do not despair: others with God-like stature have it worse than you. The textbook authors go on to call Procter’s poem, and anyone who might enjoy it, “stupid” because the poem, according to them, is not fresh or new.

The problem, however, is that the authors are raising the bar impossibly high. Some themes will always be popular. No completely original poem is possible—the imagination does not create; it must use old material. The complete absence of any sentiment or theme whatsoever, like we find in “The Red Wheel Barrow” or “In a Station of the Metro” (this little poem by Pound is lauded as “new and surprising”) is treated by Brooks/Warren as achieving a transcendence of sorts—nothing is preferable to something, due to the New Critics’ hostility to paraphrase. For Brooks/Warren, random imagery sans theme wins them over (especially when produced by a member of their clique) as “new” and “fresh.” Most everything else is cliché or doggerel.

Rhythm gets no close analysis from the authors, even though this element divides poetry from prose; they only express the opinion that too much of it is a bad thing (their reason for condemning “Ulalume”).

The poems they champion are those which are as close as possible to prose—and have no discernible sentiment—thus their keen interest in poems of mayhem and gore treated disinterestedly. The poetry of Poe these critics of poetry reject, while, ironically, embracing the popular trope of Poe’s fiction.

The authors bar most of the poetry canon and replace it with examples written by their friends. The safe filler of the book consists of misplaced canon-material tucked away into chapters in a way that fails to tease out what is most important about them. Poems of metrical excellence are put into chapters on “Tone” and “Descriptive Poems.”

We might conclude that by dismissing Adelaide Procter’s Christian poem, the authors felt too many Christians were reading too many bad Christian poems—one can surely understand this as a legitimate concern; the authors, however, don’t print good Christian poems in the canon by way of comparison; their sincerity extends only as far as scorning “pious sentiment” in a single poem and leaving it at that. Dante, Petrarch, and the entire “Divine Eros” tradition—and all romance, love or religious poetic traditions—are left out of the book altogether.

The question one expects a textbook to ask is: how should a poem best express a sentiment? A poetry textbook shouldn’t be involved in policing or curbing the sentiments themselves—especially those which are world historical and immensely popular. The authors, crusty, secular, and outspoken in the extreme, cannot help themselves. They plead for neutrality, as a matter of principle, but cheer for some sentiments over others throughout the book—and the problem is compounded by their failure to recognize that sentiment manifests itself in a host of unspoken ways. They seem to think poems are able to escape sentiment (which they generally believe is bad) simply by not being overtly sentimental. Thus they think depicting a red wheel barrow is not sentimental—which it horribly is. This particular error in taste infects nearly all of their judgments.

Curiously, they don’t even mention haiku—dare I assume it’s because they’re anxious to champion their friends Pound and Williams and their haiku-like poems, lavished with epithets “fresh” and “new?”

The book as a whole is not only filled with strange hit-and-miss assertions, it reeks of chummy provincialism. The advertising is deeply off—they call their text Understanding Poetry, not, as they should, Understanding the New American Poetry.

In their introduction, the authors, a couple of yahoos from the South (members of a Tennessee gang called the Fugitives, and later the New Critics) quote a Longfellow poem, and in the spirit of Poe, without mentioning the master, fault the Longfellow poem, “A Psalm of Life,” as crudely didactic. These boys, Brooks and Warren, ain’t playin’ around.

“This poem seems to give a great deal of good advice.”

Imagine this said in a bar somewhere in the deep South after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Massachusetts has taken a seat and is looking around.

“But granting that the advice is good advice, [here Brooks and Warren look at each other and grin] we can still ask [they move closer to Longfellow] whether or not the poem is a good poem.”

After appearing on pg. 8 of this 584 page textbook (third edition) with this one poem, America’s favorite poet, Longfellow, is never seen again.

Edna Millay, Dorothy Parker, and all the women who dominated English and American poetry after Byron, out-selling the men during those decades, never quite appear in Understanding Poetry. Not so, H.D., Pound’s one-time girlfriend—she has two of her poems discussed. The Pound clique is carefully promoted, side by side, with the New Critic circle—the American wing of Pound’s Modernist operation.

“The poet is a man speaking to men.” Wordsworth, a tough son of a bitch who hiked a lot, states the central theme of the book’s introduction.

After the “message-hunting” of Longfellow readers is dismissed, the authors quickly deny the “emotion and sensation” school. The taste of an apple, or a good cry, is better in real life. Poetry can’t compete with these, the authors say. Fair enough, and so far within their introduction the authors are doing okay.

What about “fine sentiments in fine language?” Now we are in the realm of their fellow southerner, Poe. In a word, Beauty. Or as Brooks and Warren put it, “a poem as simply a bundle of melodious word-combinations and pretty pictures.”

The authors straighten their spines and lift up their chins.

No.

Brooks/Warren are sure of that. None of that pretty, elegant stuff.

The authors quote Hamlet: “whips and scorns of time…the law’s delay…To grunt and sweat under a weary life…”

For Brooks and Warren “grunt and sweat” demonstrates that “great” poetry doesn’t need to be pretty or elegant. This proves it.

No doubt the entire passage (Hamlet’s famous To Be or Not To Be speech) taken as a whole, could be called an example of “fine sentiments in fine language,” even if some parts are not absolutely beautiful; certainly the Hamlet speech meets the standard of the sublime—which Poe would gladly substitute for beauty, as would all his Romantic brothers and sisters.

But the authors are adamant: Get the pansies out of here. Poetry ain’t got no part of the ‘greeable and we have shown that to everyone’s satisfaction!

Once they have acquainted their readers with the rude depictions and harsh emotions of “drama” in the hands of Master Grunt & Sweat Will Shakespeare, there is no turning back for these gentlemen from Tennessee. The die is cast. They fire their pistols not only into the ceiling but into the gas lamps—and burn down the tavern. Official Verse Culture is leveled—thanks to Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. A genuine American poetry (something resembling the prose poems of William Carlos Williams and the newspaper clipping rants of Whitman and Pound) will be erected in its place.

Poetry, per the violence of these professors, will do violence to the old order and every sensitive mind.

Brooks/Warren go on to assert: “The relationship of the elements in a poem is what is all important,” a truism, really—a piece of pedantry intended to soften their final conclusion:

Poetry isn’t poetry. According to the authors it’s “drama.” Woo hooo! Damn straight!

The summary to their introduction over the dead bodies of Beauty, Message, and Sensation, in their own words:

“But the fundamental points, namely, that poetry has a basis in common human interests, that the poet is a man speaking to men, and that every poem is at center, a little drama, must not be forgotten at the beginning of any attempt to study poetry.”

Admittedly, at first blush, this does sound pretty sensible. Poetry as dramatic speech. Even Dana Gioia, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Samuel Johnson, and lords Tennyson and Byron might agree.

The “drama” does have much to recommend it; however, the erosion of poetry begins with the assigning of elements to poetry—which exist and can be much better developed or made the object of applause—elsewhere. Can poetry compete with mediums or genres better equipped to envelop audiences in the dramatic—whether it’s videos of street fights on You Tube, popular music, TV, film, or Drama (theater) itself?

The introduction must be judged largely a failure. Yes, it does make sense that one cannot eat a poem like an apple, and a poem should belong to “common human interests” (as opposed to the interests of turtles) and speech does play a large role, obviously, in poetry.

And “drama,” if we stretch out the definition, (recall the authors praise the ‘Red Wheel Barrow’ at some length) can certainly vaguely denote the art.

But why exclude, as the authors do, emotion? Or “fine sentiments in fine language?”

Elsewhere in the book’s introduction, a close reading of Troilus and Cressida—naturally calling on Shakespeare as often as possible to prove their poetry-as-drama thesis—Brooks/Warren write:

“The images of the first five lines, as we have seen, are closely bound together to define a certain attitude.”

Notice how they are precisely imprecise. Defining poetry as “drama,”—and yet eschewing both emotion and what they call “beautiful statement of some high truth,”—they walk an insane tightrope of delicate inference: “images….which define a certain attitude” is how they manage to evade both strong feeling and truth— neither of which, apparently, is allowed.

But “drama” without “fine language or sentiment” is the trope they are going with.

Introducing the first chapter of the book, Narrative Poems, they begin in the following way—and notice the examples they provide:

“We have said that the ‘stuff of poetry’ is not something separate from the ordinary business of living, but itself inheres in that business. We hear someone say that a farm boy has suffered a fatal accident while cutting a block of wood with a buzz-saw; or we read in the newspaper that a woman has shot her sweetheart; or we remember that there was once an outlaw from Missouri named Jesse James who was killed by treachery.”

Poetry instruction as Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.

Imagine millions of HS and college students introduced to poetry defined this way.

Dante compared poetry to a love letter.

The Understanding Poetry authors want poetry to compete with murder stories in newspapers.

Good luck with that.

They are determined to rid poetry, once and for all, of “fine sentiments and fine language.”

These are some scary New Critic outlaws who have rolled into town!

Robert Frost, fresh with a host of Pulitzer prizes, is all too ready to assist them.

Understanding Poetry, for the first time in Academia, makes the swimming pool safe for living poets, as friends of the authors are welcomed into the canon of their textbook, provided with free towels and bathing suits. Come on in, Wheel Barrow! The water’s fine!

If you are Edward Arlington Robinson, Joyce Kilmer, Edna Millay, Edgar Poe, or any number of classic poets from outside England or New England, careful. There’s sharks.

Frost is a perfect guest: old, respectable, a genuinely good poet, and, most importantly, still alive. Living poets (even if they are mediocre) can now be read next to the dead greats. As long as they are fortunate enough to know the textbook authors. The living Robert Frost was iconic enough to make good cover for this move. Today we take such gambits very much for granted, since “the new” is now the pragmatic norm in poetry studies.

There are 6 Chapters in Understanding Poetry; the first one, as mentioned, is Narrative Poems, (murder ballads, mostly) followed by 2. Descriptive Poems, (the silliest kind of poetry is descriptive—strange this gets its own chapter) 3. Metrics, 4. Tone (this is where Ulalume is savaged), 5. Imagery (another word for Descriptive. By now it feels the chapter categories of Understanding Poetry lack a certain sense), and finally, 6. Theme: Statement and Idea.

The theme of Understanding Poetry itself: real life horror, articulated plainly and without sentiment, steps to the fore in the first chapter—Narrative Poems.

The first poem under observation is Robert Frost’s “Out, Out—” a poem I never wish to read again; the poem concerns a Vermont village boy’s buzz-saw accident in front of his sister as she calls him into supper; the boy dies that night in the hospital; the whole thing is described in a chillingly matter-of-fact manner, for the maximum horror-effect, apparently. Frost was experimenting with something—will simple description heighten the horror of a horrible event? Whether or not it succeeds as a poem, the authors only know it is the one they want to set the tone of their book.

The last four lines of “Out, Out—“, a poem of 35 lines:

No one believed. They listened at his heart.

Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

Whatever stoic virtue the poem has doesn’t save it. The poem is a monstrosity; but in their mission to define poetry as whatever lacks feeling, while cultivating general human interest with just the right combination of images, the authors consider this poem pure gold.

After “Out, Out—,” we get a bunch of anonymous murder ballads, in which the authors praise the ballad’s ability to condense a story—as it “shows” instead of “tells,” a great virtue, according to the authors, who forget they have defined poetry as “speech.” Poetry can only “show” by telling—the truism that it is better for poems to “show” is a nullity. To tell ironically is the closest a poem can come to “showing,” which it never actually does. Imagists fall into great error on this point.

The Narrative Poem chapter also includes 3 poems by A.E. Housman—the authors seem to prefer him to Longfellow because Housman is a secular Longfellow; “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree” is a decent ballad, meeting the authors approval with plenty of tragedy, blood, and stoicism. “Hell Gate” by Housman has nothing to recommend it; the story is muddled and its music uninspired. The authors write, “We feel immediately that we are not dealing with salvation in the Christian sense.” Perhaps this is why they selected this mediocre poem? The third Housman poem, “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” is praised because the authors recommend its cynical message (every soldier only fights for “pay;”). Longfellow is not allowed to articulate a theme, but apparently Housman is.

I’m not sure why the authors don’t include Poe’s ballad “Ulalume” in the “ballad” chapter; they confine themselves almost entirely to anonymous ballads, and when they briefly discuss “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” at the end of the chapter, they make the mistake of saying that Keats is “using the pretense of ballad simplicity,” as they assume that here we have a “modern poem” pretending to be an authentic ballad. Keats died in 1822. When do the authors think “Frankie and Johnny” was composed? The very essence of the subject seems to elude them.

A naval engagement from “Song of Myself” is the soaring highlight of Chapter One. There’s not much of a story told, but the authors enthuse over seemingly irrelevant “details,” and the following makes them especially happy:

“The hiss of the surgeon’s knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw,/Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull, tapering groan…”

In the Afterwards to Chapter One the authors admit they have a problem:

“Indeed, it is not easy, except in regard to the use of verse, to make an absolute distinction between poetry and prose fiction.”

Poetry, they say, has “concentration,” “sharpness of selected detail,” “appeal to the imagination” and “intensity.”

These are too vague to mean very much.

What can be going through the minds of the students forced to read this textbook?

Chapter Two, Descriptive Poems, begins with an assault on a chestnut by Robert Browning, as the authors continue their scorched earth policy against “Official Verse Culture.” Actually, they do make an interesting observation: “mood” and “thought” are often the same. Whether Browning brought the authors into a temporary state of sanity, it is not certain. In the last comment on the Browning, the authors write: one critic felt this poem sucks. Do you agree? It’s OK. Browning will survive.

The Descriptive Poems chapter (Two) is a nod, after the “ballads” chapter (One) to poetry as a rather simple art form—resembling fiction, just more condensed.

Language does not interest our authors, nor aesthetics, nor the Socratic, nor epistemology, nor philosophies of composition, nor fancy v imagination, nor cultural or social content, nor anything beyond things like:

“A lively sense of the perceptible world with its sights, sounds, and smells, is fundamental to poetry.”

Chapter Two devolves into poems about the seasons; Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, and T.S. Eliot (“The Preludes”) go to kindergarten. Along the way, a couple of H.D. poems, Pound’s petals on a bough poem (lovingly discussed) and the following poem (quoted in full) by James Stephens, “The Main-Deep:”

The long rolling,
Steady-pouring,
Deep-trenched
Green billow;

The wide-topped,
Unbroken,
Green-glacid,
Slow-sliding,

Cold-flushing,
On—on—on—
Chill-rushing,
Hush-hushing,

Hush-hushing…

This poem fills the authors with wonder. They discuss it at length, quoting approvingly the line “Hush-hushing.” They consider the poem splendid—and write solemnly on it. The author was a close friend of Joyce.

By the time we reach page 119 and chapter 3 Metrics, it is no surprise that Brooks/Warren embrace T.S. Eliot’s strange assertion that prose scans—and therefore poetry and rhythmical language really don’t have much to do with each other.

“What is poetry?” we might ask at this point.

The authors only know what it is not. It is not iambic pentameter. The following, they say, is iambic pentameter, and this is not poetry:

A Mr. Wilkerson, a clergyman.

This pretty much sums up the metrics lesson of Chapter Three.

I’d like to end this look at Understanding Poetry with their take on Metrics, because I think their attitude towards formalism is where they do the most damage, but I’ll sum up Chapters Four, Five, and Six, first.

Chapter Four, “Tone,” is the chapter where we find things by E.E. Cummings and the textbook’s comedic poems (Ogden Nash); and this is where “Ulalume” is treated comically and slaughtered. After “Ulalume” is killed off, the authors reprint “Luke Havergal” by Edwin Arlington Robinson and “Voices” by Walter de La Mare with little comment, implying these two poems are failures as well, mostly because of their exaggerated rhythm, and then, accompanied by a great deal of earnest laudation, Brooks/Warren offer their colleague Jonh Crowe Ransom’s poem, “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,” a poem which revels in a child’s death—describing her in its final (rhyming with “stopped”) line: “Lying so primly propped.”

The next poem is “After the Burial” by James Russell Lowell (the 19th century is generally not favored by the authors). The end of Lowell’s poem:

That little shoe in the corner,
So worn and wrinkled and brown,
With its emptiness confutes you,
And argues your wisdom down.

Here’s what the authors say about Lowell’s poem: “Many readers have found this poem disturbing. They find it disturbing because, on one hand, they know that it was written as the expression of a deep personal grief, and on the other hand, they think it is a bad poem.”

Chapter Five (Imagery) is where they put Tennyson, Hart Crane, Marvell, Donne, Auden, and Dickinson—who seems to be the only woman poet the authors can stomach, besides H.D. and Marianne Moore—she was included in the final “Poems for Study” section—no commentary)—two women belonging to Pound’s clique.

Chapter Six—“Theme: Statement and Idea” features still another poem by Housman, George Meredith, Donne, and finishes up with heavy-hitters: 3 well-known poems by Frost, Gray’s “Elegy,” Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” Blake’s “London,” Emerson’s “Brahma,” “The Force That Through the Green Fuse” by Dylan Thomas, Eliot’s “Prufrock,” (with a long, respectful, discussion), Melville, Jarrell, Yeats (and a long discussion), “Shine, Perishing Republic,” by Robinson Jeffers, “The Return” by John Peale Bishop (similar in theme to the Jeffers—no patriotic songs or poems in this book!) and finally “Kubla Kahn,” “Lycidas,” and “Nightingale” (a long discussion) and “Urn” by Keats.

Our New Critic authors do select some powerhouses of “Official Verse Culture,” (necessary if their textbook is to have any weight at all) but it’s clear their intention is to destroy it—by their omissions, their commentary, and the careful organization of their themed chapters. All in all, a very clever hit job. The book also had to make their friends, such as Ezra Pound, WC Williams, and John Crowe Ransom, very happy, indeed.

On page 151, a single line by the otherwise excluded Millay, in a onomatopoeia discussion in the Metrics chapter, is mocked by John Crowe Ransom. This must have given the boys in the office a good chuckle.

Millay’s line: “Comfort, softer than the feathers of its breast.”

Ransom: “Crumpets for the foster-fathers of the brats.”

The first purpose of Understanding Poetry is to prove the authors’ paramount notion—poetry is 95% prose meaning and 5% poetic effect. An interesting idea—like saying a person missing a face is still a person.

Their higher purpose seems to be to replace poetry of the working and middle classes and esteemed by professorial verse-expertise and inspired by a love of verse in general, with the “new” poetry written by their friends. This intent is perhaps more difficult to prove—though it coincides with the first purpose above—and reading this book, what is one to think?

“The Blindness of Samson” by Milton is quoted—the metrical variation of iambic and trochee in the first five lines is pointed out—but I still can’t help but laugh at the ‘buried alive’ (in blindness) theme—the authors, throughout the book, in their poetry selections, are uncommonly fixated on macabre fiction strategies of Poe—even as they reject Poe, the poet.

Brooks/Warren, in the Metrics chapter, fully quote another Milton poem, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont,” featuring “martyred blood” and “Mother and infant” tossed from cliffs—pointing out this poem has “precisely the same rhyme scheme” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?”

Really? One has to wonder: are the authors critics or sadists?

They don’t discuss stanza forms—the pinnacle of verse mastery. They do, at least, because it is such a popular trope—thanks to poets like Shelley, Poe, and Alexander Pope—pay some attention to “sound and sense,” but why they feel compelled to compare a famous love poem with a massacre poem simply due to a similar rhyme scheme is just bizarre.

There is more torture of sorts when they discuss the metrics of Milton and Barrett in the following manner:

“To sum up, we may say that the relation of rhetorical pauses to the line pauses of a stanza provides a principle of vital vibration analogous to that provided by the relation of rhetorical accent to metrical accent.”

Got that?

There are different kinds of pauses.

Actually, no. Verse contains only one kind of pause. Speakers, yes, can interpret pauses as wildly as they choose—but this does not alter the verse as written.

“Vital vibration” sounds like something which might inspire the daft Charles Olson and the whole nutty avant school, which hears things in the ether– poetry to neither you nor I, but to them alone.

“After Long Silence” by Yeats (a rare modern who could pull off verse—Auden and Larkin the youngest poets who fit that mold) is reprinted, followed by two difficult sonnets of Shakespeare, Hardy, Ben Johnson,Cowper, Hopkins—not the greatest examples of metrical excellence, frankly, especially for a student exposed to the blurry pedagogy of the authors, but this is all in preparation, no doubt, for the final act of the Metrics chapter: a lengthy commentary on two free verse poems by William Carlos Williams. “By the road to the contagious hospital” and “The Red Wheel Barrow,” including a revisit of “Pear Tree” by H.D.

The authors’ conclusion is that “free verse” is, indeed “verse”—in every sense of the word.

Need I say more?

Thomas Graves, Salem MA

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF POETRY PULITZER PRIZES RANKED

Anne Sexton (Author of The Complete Poems)
Anne Sexton won in 1967 when she was 39.

To judge 100 years of prize-winning poetry is both a challenge and an illumination—the challenge is that in 100 years our idea of poetry has changed.

The landmark year of Modernism, 1922—when The Waste Land and Ulysses were published—saw the first official Pulitzer in Poetry awarded to the Collected Poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson, a retiring, self-published, versifier who got lucky when a friend showed his book to the president of the United States (Teddy Roosevelt)—Robinson the very opposite of Pound and his manifesto-band of revolutionary opportunists.

Pound and his clique were not just for the “new;” they resented Millay, Frost, Robinson, and poets who rhymed, sold lots of books, and won Pulitzers. Hugh Kenner, author of The Pound Era, had unkind things to say about Millay’s work. It was no secret that American poetry was split in two in the early part of the 20th century—and the two groups did not like each other. Robert Hillyer, a Harvard professor who won the Pulitzer in 1934 and 15 years later objected strenuously to Pound’s Bollingen Prize award, would leave the room if Pound or Eliot came up in conversation.

For years, the Pulitzer poetry award was administered by a committee of three. The chair for years was Wilbur Cross, a literary critic, Yale alum and Connecticut governor in the 1930s. Cross was on the jury until 1947, when Robert Lowell was awarded the prize by Cross, Henry S. Canby, and Louis Untermeyer. The next year Alfred Kreymborg joined the group, and he, Canby, and Untermeyer gave the Pulitzer to Auden.

The Dial magazine Prize (the revived journal lasted only for the decade of the 1920s) was, as any objective person should be able to ascertain, a circle-jerk of poet-comrades awarding each other prizes. Prize winners included Williams, Pound, Eliot, Cummings, and Marianne Moore—who replaced Scofield Thayer (a wealthy prep-school chum of Eliot’s) as Dial editor in 1926. Cummings eloped with Thayer’s wife at this time, with the latter’s approval, as the nephew of Casey At the Bat author, Ernest Thayer, was later hospitalized for mental instability.

No judging committee is going to be perfect, but the early years of the poetry Pulitzer judging seemed to get it right: don’t let poets award the prize; let a certain objective distance prevail—let judges be those who write opera librettos or teach philosophy, not poets seeking the prize itself. By the 1960s, poets (often winners of the prize) became judges. Poet-judging was already a thing in the 1930s, (there seemed to be a group centered around the long-defunct Saturday Review, a clique-ish center of gravity, if you will) but it was rare.

Po-biz has long since been taken over by the poets. Frost served on the jury once, in the 1930s. Leonard Bacon served on the jury for four years (’36—’39), and then won in 1941. Stephen Vincent Benet served on the jury briefly, and then won. If poets are good, one doesn’t resent this so much. No judging apparatus is air-tight. But it seems a no-brainer: let judges be credentialed in arts and letters, not to a circle of prize-desiring poets.

By the middle of the century, the gap between the two poetry camps (populist and modernist) had almost closed—the skirmish around Pound’s Bollingen Prize in 1949 was the last battle. It is difficult to describe the resulting one camp, except that it was vaguely anti-Romantic. I don’t believe it had anything to do with politics, since Pound was celebrated by Marxists; I think it was just a natural consolidation of friendly power. The cool kids (however that’s defined) prevailed—the outsiders were never quite sure what the favored and consolidating “cool” was, which is why they were outsiders, looking on with a mixture of indignation, admiration, jealousy, and puzzlement.

In the 21st century, the white avant-garde began to be replaced by identity politics, but Romanticism was still a thing of the past. A consolidation was happening within a consolidation. Expressive skill continued to take a back seat to the thing expressed.

The challenge of reconciliation still existed in the 1920s—Edwin Arlington Robinson or T.S. Eliot? Edna Millay or WC Williams? We feel a bit lost in the duality—which side do we like? It’s a challenge.

But as one reads the poets of the 1920s, aware of the split, and thinks about the Pulitzer’s 100 year history, there’s also illumination.

We tend to be binary—we cheer for one side over the other—and in our partisanship we exaggerate differences. As one reads E A Robinson, Edna Millay Robert Frost, and Amy Lowell, the Pulitzer winners of the 20s, poets eventually, and pretty much today, left behind during the Long March of Modernism’s revolution, one cannot help but notice in these populists an obsession with the past, with everything old—and this characterizes the Modernist revolutionaries, as well: for all their “modernism,” Pound and Eliot, too, wore hats and cloaks of the bygone.

As Randall Jarrell said: aren’t we all Romantics, really?

Both camps embraced the past seamlessly in their way: the Modernists attempted to write in a classic manner (stiff, humorless), while the early 20th Century school engaged the old in modes playful, fanciful, passionate—knowingly or unknowingly, it didn’t really matter; they did so energetically. The irony is that Modernist “revolutionaries” were rather staid, by comparison, bogged down by bullet-point, manifesto-ist, decrees.

Just to give a brief example—here’s a passage from Amy Lowell’s prize-winning book, What’s O’clock:

Hot with oranges and purples,
In a flowing robe of a marigold colour,
He sweeps over September spaces.
Scheherezade, do you hear him,
And the clang of his scimitar knocking on the gates?
The tawny glitter of his turban,
Is it not dazzling —
With the safron jewel set like a sun-flower in the midst?
The brown of his face!
Aye, the brown like the heart of a sun-flower.

Whatever can be said of this passage, it is colorful, it has swagger, even as we wonder, wouldn’t “flowing robe of marigold” be better than “flowing robe of a marigold color?”

Mundane things, like syntax and grammar, which the avant-garde dismisses as shallow, inhibiting, or old, will contribute to the quality of poetry forever—whether our meta-theoretical brains like it or not.

(T.S. Eliot, the best of the Modernists, plain knew how to write. He had Harvard. He had grammar—though you don’t necessarily need the Harvard for the grammar. Harvard, most importantly, quickly became the social meeting spot for the anti-Romantic “new,” whether you were Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings, or Wallace Stevens.)

Obviously, the following colorful poem is not better than Amy Lowell, but the tone is different—there is nothing “revolutionary” here; the fancy and the expansive have simply been set aside for a boiled-down, self-conscious, lecture:

“So much depends on the red wheel barrow…the white chickens…”

The Modernist poets wanted to ‘get things right’ in a narrower, more serious manner—and this is why they kept manifestos. The Populists (Millay sold 10,000 books for every one by Pound or Williams) were actually more experimental, more imaginative, and took more risks. Which means, yes, some of them did write poems which today make us wince. The Populists were more apt to be zany, to be ridiculous, to be odd, to take a subject and look at it in a bizarre way. They were out to please, without feeling they had to obey some revolutionary decree.

In one of Robert Frost’s four Pulitzer-winning volumes, there is a poem about a girl named “Maple”—those who went to school with the girl insisted it was “Mable.” No, Frost assures us, it was “Maple.” And Frost elaborates in one of his “story” poems.

Maple vs. Mable. This is unusual, bizarre, crazy—crazier than the Modernists, who actually took themselves far more seriously—and took fewer risks and in fact had less fun.

Poetry, the Modernists thought, needed to be serious and tweedy, not a fanciful romp—and this, as it turned out, in a crazy historical twist of fate, worked better in the university—and this is where the revolutionary Modernists finally won—in the ivory tower; they got into textbooks, initially published by the New Critics, anti-Romantics, who brilliantly played the game of Traditionalists who got themselves (the Modernists) in.

The Populists were more apt to write (why not?) like a 17th century bard and occasionally hit one out of the park (think of Millay’s “What Lips These Lips Have Kissed”). Robert Frost, Edna Millay, and Amy Lowell sometimes rhymed and sometimes did not (and come to think of it, T.S. Eliot, the best Modernist, did this as well). Edwin Arlington Robinson made a humorous retort when asked why he didn’t write free verse: “I’m bad enough as it is.” There is something rather puritan, it seems to me, about the narrow ones, frowning in the corner, who never rhyme. You can do all kinds of wonderful things in poetry—and rhyme, as well. But if, on principle, you don’t rhyme—is this really broadening, novel, imaginative, or revolutionary? And how did it become to be thought of as so?

The answer has already been alluded to—rhyme sold books, especially when a writer like Millay (who also had a sexy, rock-star persona) could rhyme almost as skillfully as Shakespeare—could, on occasion at least, pull it off. But the gold mine of getting onto a university syllabus required mining of a special sort:

First, we can’t keep just teaching Shakespeare (and writers like Millay writing sonnets like Shakespeare) forever, can we?

Second, since the establishment pushes for scholarly historical phases of art, it is only natural that we begin to teach those “of their time period,” i.e., the “Modernists.”

Third, is a sexy best-seller by the terribly loose Millay the best thing for serious study in the university? The Populists in the 20s featured lots of rhyming women. The prominent female in the Modernist club was the dour, buttoned-up, anti-Romantic, Miss Marianne Moore. Ironically, free verse was associated with free love. Neither side was necessarily staid. But the Modernists, led by the melancholy T.S. Eliot, seemed more fit for the university.

The generally neo-classical stiffness of the Moderns appealed to educators and deans, at last. The Populists sold books, but when did a “best-seller” ever appeal to a scholarly mind?

I’m going to assign four phases to the poetry Pulitzer history.

The first phase might be called the Wilbur Cross phase, when a Yale scholar and Democrat Governor of Connecticut who gave his name to the Wilbur Cross Parkway led the jury until 1946—when winners were poets like Edna Millay, Amy Lowell, Leonora Speyer (very good, utterly forgotten), George Dillon, Archibald MacLeish, and Audrey Wurdemann (another good poet and now ignored).

The second phase should be called the Alfred Kreymborg phase, a modernist-cooling-into conservatism judge who ruled the jury from 1947 (a young Robert Lowell won) to 1959—when Stanley Kunitz won.

Richard Wilbur (1957) and Kunitz comprised the two-man jury which chose Louis Simpson in 1963 and by now we are in the third phase, which could be called the Stanley Kunitz phase—prize-winning, establishment poets choosing prize-winning, establishment poets. As poetry sold less, it became necessary for poets to breathe “establishment” air. Kreymborg was on the jury one more time—in 1961, when he chose (along with Louis Untermeyer) the now forgotten Phyllis McGinley. The 1967 judges who picked Anne Sexton were Pulitzer prize poets, too: Richard Eberhart, Phyllis McGinley, and Louis Simpson.

The fourth phase begins with Vijay Seshadri winning in 2014—this might be called the Marilyn Chin phase (the latest Jury Chair).

The third phase is a long one, the consolidation of the Modernist hegemony, taking us through Ashbery winning in 1976, Charles Simic in 1990, C.K. Williams in 2000, to Sharon Olds’ win in 2013. We might also call the Kunitz phase the Wright phase: James Wright (1972), Charles Wright (1998), and Franz Wright (2004).

The fourth phase winners are: Seshadri, Greg Pardlo, Peter Balakian, Tyehimba Jess, Frank Bidart, Forrest Gander, Jericho Brown, and Natalie Diaz. Is the fourth phase really just an extension of the third phase? Perhaps.

Vijay Seshadri has a poem which ends with Al Green singing a Bee Gees song. If the music of the Bee Gees or Al Green appeal to you at all, you should find yourself pulled out of the poem (“Bright Copper Kettles”) because let’s face it, prose poets, who work in that familiar prose-poem-template-of-no-particular voice-or-personality—and are neither comics nor composers, and who are not Edna St. Vincent Millay—cannot possibly compete with popular culture (which is probably why, as modern poetry gradually turned into prose, which it mostly is now, poets felt the overwhelming need to professionally bond together in the MFA, award-giving hive, to protect each other from anything which might possibly resemble mass culture—ostentatious rhyme, ostentatious music, ostentatious comedy, sweeping themes, memorable speech.

The monotony of the prose-poem template is perhaps the longest cloud in the history of rapid-fire modernism, and lours over us—despite the wide and varied experience of the poet, or their advanced vocabulary—and it is the very fact of their immense experience and vocabulary which is partly to blame, since a host of sights and sounds observed with loving intelligence is a nullity—when it comes to poetry. The sights and sounds have to be the poem’s. There are limits to what words can describe. If the poet has twelve brothers, if the poet drinks in a bar, if the poet observes the wind’s behavior on a windy day, the translation of these events into words by an observant and intelligent person has absolutely nothing to do with poetry—if that person is not writing as a skilled writer of—poetry. He can reference all the pop songs and dances and memories of dad and world events he wants.

Enough editorializing on truism. The list, please.

(A note: Some won the award more than once, some won for a first book, some for a Collected—all are ranked as poets, but the work that actually won is taken into account, as well.)

The Pulitzer Prize Winning Poets, Ranked, From Best to Worst:

One Robert Hillyer 1934 He vigorously protested Pound’s post-treason Bollingen. Are you shocked he is number one? This owes mostly to the hearsay of poetic reputation. A Harvard prof who wrote like Shelley. Here’s 3 stanzas to give you an idea, from the poem, “Arabesque” published in Poetry magazine, August, 1924:

Rejected by a heliotrope,
The drunken butterfly has sworn
To hang himself with cobweb rope
From the black hawthorn.

The ocean floor is not more still—
That moonstone half suffused with green;
The sunlight pours forth from hill to hill,
Shadow between.

*

Death, not yet.
The fountain has not sung enough.
One other afternoon,
A few more hours.
Then, when the sun has set,
A few more hours of moon
In other gardens, other flowers.

Two Edna Millay 1923 She threw herself into song—and became a rock star. Her sonnets are some of the best of all time. She took song-risks. Failed a lot, but who cares? She doesn’t need to quote the Bee Gees in her poems. She is the Bee Gees.

Three Robert Frost 1924, 1931, 1937, 1943 He was a chatter-box. Sometimes didn’t know when to shut up. He actually did what Wordsworth recommended—blended poetry and speech. As if this means anything. Does it?

Four Edward Arlington Robinson 1922, 1925, 1928 Not since Poe and Longfellow dominated the 1840s were there two poets like Robinson and Millay who owned the 1920s. The public will be pleased by the effusions of whatever strikes its fancy without learned encouragement. The profound which manages to please the public is in danger of being underestimated. Robinson is the real deal. He avoids the fruitless amateur descriptions of trees and such—his poetry speaks.

Five James Tate 1992 Of all the free verse poets, who wrote poems in paragraphs, making no pretense to form whatsoever, he is the one who is probably the most amusing and thoughtful. His Selected Poems won.

Six Howard Nemerov 1978 The oil crisis, disco, the collapse of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. But here came Nemerov’s sane, polished, witty, Collected Poems to save us. Humorous/profound in a folksy manner such as we get from this WW II poet makes the rebellious/avant-garde uncomfortable. When you are funny, no one takes your cynicism seriously—and then no one takes you seriously at all. This is what happens to poets, like Nemerov, with range. He also had the audacity to have a good formalist ear. We prefer the tragic poets who have no range at all. In another hundred years, this choice will perhaps make more sense.

Seven Archibald MacLeish 1933, 1953 Won the Pulitzer the second time for his Collected. A poet’s poet. Not as funny as Nemerov—he took himself a bit too seriously, but he was of that time.

Eight Richard Wilbur 1957, 1989 This formalist dynamo did not always match his skills with great subjects—his most famous poem is about laundry (comparing it to angels) but he has a great poem about a fountain. One is always listening for a wrong step—so delicately precise he is—and so you hold your breath when you read him, making your way delicately through the formal delights.

Nine James Merrill 1977 The first part of his Ouija Board epic won the prize—how to tell the elegant Merrill from the scholarly Richard Howard? Merrill is a bit more metrically precise, a bit easier to read. Howard has more philosophical heft.

Ten Leonard Bacon 1941 Writes like Byron. His work is hard to find. Get it. It will be worth something one day.

Just to give you an idea, a few excerpts from his previous work (damn if I can find the book that won):

In short he was the very symbol of
The second nature of free verse—free love.

Still polyphonic prose is simply—prose.
Free verse is but the shadow of a song,
Though sham sham sham and pose repose on pose,
Though Greenwich Village pillage still in gutters,
Though Arensburg believe what Kreymborg utters.

She beat her bosom, which appeared to be
Flat as the level of democracy.

Eleven W.H. Auden 1948 Major formalist poet who was born in England. came to America in 1940 and won the U.S. award with an unrhymed tetrameter narrative poem about barflies in New York called The Age of Anxiety. Not his best but still Auden.

Twelve Donald Justice 1980 Observant, emotionally intelligent, knew how to write the lyric poem.

Thirteen Sylvia Plath 1982 Her life and work are so intertwined, one might say the critic has an impossible task. The New Critics would say, “delete the life!” But as we examine the flaky parts of the poem, all the competing ironies and resonances, we find “the life” in the poem, its energetic source; we cannot delete the poet’s life—its energies, its content, from the poem. Not the famed life, the life.

Fourteen Theodore Roethke 1954 He was very much like a mad, 19th century, English, poet. He ranks high because 19th century England wrote better poetry than 20th century America.

Fifteen Elizabeth Bishop 1956 Her reputation continued to grow as the century progressed and now I imagine it’s as high as it can go. If you got tired of Moore, you could read Bishop (Millay was not modern enough, Parker too dramatic, Teasdale too sad.) I imagine she took a secret delight in being able to write a better “Robert Lowell poem” than her friend Robert Lowell—a poem that was finally updated Wordsworth.

Sixteen John Berryman 1954 Won for Dream Songs—they were certainly uneven and well, crazy. I wonder if we’ll look back some day at 20th century American poetry and see its lunacy? Not as in: good art-crazy, but as in: “oh my God that was crazy.”

Seventeen Leonora Speyer 1927 We choose the best by one thing: their best poems, don’t we? And that makes nearly everyone who is not an epic poet famous (if they are lucky) for a handful of poems, sometimes one. Here’s one of hers I like—though I can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic—called “Ascent:”

Mountains take too much time.
Start at the top and climb.

Eighteen Stephen Dunn 2001 If you’re going to write free verse and you’re not an Imagist, it doesn’t hurt to be gossipy and poignant—a bartender Socrates.

Nineteen Mark Van Doren. 1940 He wrote lovely, slightly mystical lyrics. Also taught Allen Ginsberg at Columbia.

Twenty Richard Howard 1970 Very much a student of poetry—so absorbed in it, he wrote it almost as if it belonged to a different medium.

Twenty One Wallace Stevens 1955 Overrated, in my opinion. He seems quite consciously to be pulling our leg. I don’t care what Helen Vendler says. Does anyone else think of him as rather a joke? He did have range—though most of what he tried I didn’t like. But he’s still #21. He ought to be happy.

Twenty Two Amy Lowell 1926 Won an Imagist pissing contest with Pound—he was a mere scholar; she was a Sappho. See: “The Letter,” “Venus Transiens,” “The Garden by Moonlight,” “The Taxi,” and her famous “Patterns.” The pity is that she was the one who died early (1925)—rather than him.

Twenty Three William Rose Benet 1942 The Benets (the two brothers who won the prize—Stephen for a Civil War epic, William for an epic on his life of four marriages, including one with the Populist, Anne Sexton-lite poet, Eleanore Wylie). What do you say about the Benets? William’s verse had more energy.

Twenty Four Sharon Olds 2013 finally joined the Pulitzer club with her break-up book, Stag’s Leap—not at all her best work. She made a name for herself by being racy (though she was always more than that) and the Pulitzer for a very long time imagined itself to be rather classy: Robert Penn Warren, not Charles Bukowski. Stripped of her sex-partner, she gained a prize.

Twenty Five Galway Kinnnell 1983 He won for his Selected, before he wrote, “When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone.” More patience, Pulitzer, more patience.

Twenty Six Audrey Wurdermann 1935 Brief bios tell she was the great-great-grandaughter of Shelley. I would love to hear the story—none of Shelley’s known heirs grew to adulthood. She was only 24 when she won for her lyric songs. What do you think of this one:

Persephone


When she first came there, Pluto wept,
Streaking cinders down his face,
While she competently slept
In her alloted place.
She catalogued her little hells,
Cupboarded the fires,
And placed in tabulated wells
Old lost desires.
She made his Lordship stoop to gather
Ashes from the floor;
She regulated stormy weather,
And polished Hades’ door.
The Devil was unhappy in
Such cleanliness and space.
She said it was a mortal sin,
The way he’d kept the place!
Now, after several million years,
(For time can reconcile),
He tip-toes with quite human fears
About their domicile.

Twenty Seven Carl Dennis 2002 Nimble rhetorician. His work has a wondering-out loud, Billy Collins feel—but a little more respectable. Don’t know if that’s good or bad.

Twenty Eight Anne Sexton 1967 She won for Live or Die, poems from the early 60s, a housewife Robert Lowell—but with bursts of Dionsyian frenzy. She ought to be ranked higher, but the pain is too great. She out-Plaths Plath. Remember this from her?

from “Consorting With Angels”

I was tired of being a woman,
tired of the spoons and the pots
*

O daughters of Jerusalem,
the king has brought me into his chamber.
I am black and I am beautiful.
I’ve been opened and undressed.
I have no arms or legs.
I’m all one skin like a fish.
I’m no more a woman
than Christ was a man.

Twenty Nine Richard Eberhart 1966 The groundhog poem. He lived to be very, very, old.

Thirty Robert Penn Warren 1958, 1979 A prize machine, he belonged to the Fugitives, the Southern Agrarians, and co-wrote Understanding Poetry, the New Critics textbook, a tome of many editions mid-century which made it official: WC Williams yea, Poe nay.

Thirty One John Ashbery 1976 Anyone can rhyme, and now, thanks to Ashbery, anyone can write poetry.

Thirty Two Anthony Hecht 1968 “The Dover Bitch” wins the Pulitzer Prize!

Thirty Three Stanley Kunitz 1959 His poems stake out a sentimental pitch and then retreat, ashamed for doing so. I love him and can’t stand him.

Thirty Four Robert Lowell 1947, 1974 There’s something show-offy about him. Always seemed too prog-rock, not rock enough for my taste. I’ll admit I thought the Lowell name opened doors, and found it strange that he left Harvard for New Critic-dom in Tennessee. A Fugitive poet was the family psychiatrist. The first Big Star Writing Program prof (Iowa, Boston U.), his early promise, the idea of his greatness, didn’t come to fruition.

Thirty Five W.S. Merwin 1971, 2009 Has that lack of punctuation poignancy which floats off to somewhere else, allowing nothing very important to be finally said, and if this is what poetry finally is, damn he’s good.

Thirty Six Robert Hass 2008 He perfected that middle period free verse ability to ironically lecture while invoking the sensual.

Thirty Seven Natasha Tretheway 2007 Her poetry snaps and zings as good poetry should. She’s underrated. Her lyricism has force.

Thirty Eight Louis Simpson 1964 O the contemplative wisdom in the darkness! His work seems a little plainer and duller now than I remembered it. Some poetry has a way of impressing us more in our youth when professors-as-human hold more sway.

Thirty Nine Louise Gluck 1993 I must admit she completely bored me at first. She seemed emotionally distant in her poems and I read her that way, and so I fell asleep to what she was doing.

Forty Gwendolyn Brooks 1950 “We die soon.”

Forty One Carl Sandburg 1951 He really did write a lot of bad poems. Maybe folk-singers do that.

Forty Two George Dillon 1932 One of Millay’s boyfriends. Poetry magazine editor—while serving in WW II. Here’s his “Beauty Intolerable:”

Finding her body woven
As if of flame and snow,
I thought: however often
My pulses cease to go,
Whipped by whatever pain
Age or disease appoint,
I shall not be again
So jarred in every joint,
So mute, amazed and taut,
And winded of my breath,

Beauty being at my throat
More savagely than death.

Forty Three Stephen Vincent Benet 1929, 1944 The Civil War epic! He received his second award posthumously. He was also a well-known fiction writer.

Forty Four Phyllis McGinley 1961 A formalist housewife poet. Made the cover of Time in 1965.

Forty Five Natalie Diaz 2021 The latest winner. She played professional basketball before earning her MFA. “It Was the Animals” is a brilliant poem.

Forty Six Peter Viereck 1949 He dared to invoke old, swooning themes in rhyme. My God, it was 1949! I guess the free verse revolution hadn’t happened yet. His poem, “Again, Again!” sounds like a pop song. Here’s how it begins and ends:

Who here’s afraid to gawk at lilacs?
Who won’t stand up and praise the moon?
Who doubts that skies still ache for skylarks
And waves are lace upon the dune?

*

I’ll see. I’ll say. I’ll find the word.
All earth must lilt, then, willy-nilly
And vibrate one rich triple-chord
Of August, wine, and waterlily.

Billy Collins sounds bad ass compared to this. I still like it, though. I’m not afraid to praise the moon. It’s difficult to understand that when poetry rejects—in principle—whatever Viereck is doing here: 1649, 1949, 2021, it doesn’t matter, options don’t increase; they diminish.

Forty Seven Alan Dugan 1962 Who are these poets who feel so damn sorry for themselves, writing spare little poems in diners and used clothing shops? Hey don’t knock it. Sylvia Plath was dying and he was winning a Pulitzer prize.

Forty Eight Charles Wright 1998 Almost won in 1982 but was beaten by Plath’s posthumous Collected. His winning volume has that resigned, bird-watching, lawn-sprinkler, reality which is perfectly good even as it bores us to tears. “If there’s nothing going on,/there’s no reason to make it up.” Yeah, I guess.

Forty Nine Kay Ryan 2011 Brevity is the soul of wit, not poetry. She has an Emily Dickinson quality, but much drier. The idea of her greatness, but in fact, not. Occasionally good.

Fifty Paul Muldoon 2003 Seamus Heaney-lite, or maybe closer to Ted Hughes-lite. Whimsical, with an edge.

Fifty One Tyehimba Jess 2017 Born in Detroit, a Slam poet who received his MFA at NYU. “a woman birthed him/back whole again.” He knows how to end poems. Many good poets don’t know how to do that.

Fifty Two W.D. Snodgrass 1960 Confessional Poetry. What was “confessional,” anyway? What did it confess? Snodgrass went through a divorce as he earned his MFA at Iowa.

Fifty Three Yusef Komunyakaa 1994 One of America’s great tragic poets.

Fifty Four Rita Dove 1987 Her winning book is about her maternal grandparents. She responded with great dignity when her anthology of 20th century poetry was attacked from respectable academic and avant-garde quarters for filling it with certain types of poets. Her poetry celebrates affection.

Fifty Five Marianne Moore 1952 She was not only didactic at times, but she explicitly warned us away from beauty in the old high sense. Sorry, no.

Fifty Six James Schuyler 1981 You cannot totally hate poetry when at least a friendly, observant, personality shows through.

Fifty Seven Gregory Pardlo 2015 You can say a lot of things in prose poetry. I love this: “She makes a jewelry of herself and garlands/the ground with shadows.”

Fifty Eight Philip Levine 1995 Won for his book The Simple Truth. Run-on prose lines; breathless sameness to his poetry. A Hemingway plain-speaking tone imprisoned in pseudo-lyric form.

Fifty Nine Jericho Brown 2020 Influenced by Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes.. He’s director of the Creative Writing program at Emory.

Sixty Philip Schultz 2008 Shared his win with Hass. Confessional—the Stanley Kunitz school.

Sixty One Jorie Graham 1996 She won for later work that was pedantic—poison to her mystical flair. Early Graham was better.

Sixty Two Marya Zaturenska 1938 Her verses are below the quality of what I expect to see from that time; somewhat heavy-handed, but they certainly have their moments.

Sixty Three Mary Oliver. 1984 The first member of the ‘Feel-Good School.’ It certainly has worth (and may even win the day for some) even if hers is the shadow of poetry, the shadow of what might be called nature poetry (which is impossible anyway—“I think I will never see…”).

Sixty Four Robert Coffin 1936 Has some OK ballads. He was the poetry editor of Yankee magazine.

Sixty Five Conrad Aiken 1930 A friend of Eliot’s, he and John Gould Fletcher (in 1939) were the first of the “hostile camp” Modernists to slip in and win a Pulitzer—Aiken’s lyrics were not terribly good but had an Eastern feel. Everyone in America—Populist or Modernist—loved Eastern art and poetry: from the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War to Pearl Harbor.

Sixty Six Vijay Seshadri 2014 And why not put Al Green singing a Bee Gees song in your poem?

Sixty Seven Peter Balakian 2016 I don’t know. His poetry has that scholarly, thoughtful sheen.

Sixty Eight George Oppen 1969 Fashionably minimalist.

Sixty Nine Tracy K. Smith. 2012 She was young when she won the award. I saw her read around that time, and she seemed apologetic around her fellow readers. She’s a much better poet now.

Seventy Mona Van Duyn 1991 Witty, formalist, didactic. A pleasant poet from Iowa who could rise to a mighty rhetoric from which one felt she pretty quickly needed to get down.

Seventy One Charles Simic 1990 Like so many free verse poets, whatever at-the-time-magic hovered around their utterances previously, is now fled. I found The World Doesn’t End haunting when it came out. It didn’t bother to do anything except describe (briefly and plainly) what was odd and the reader would fill in the rest. Was it this novelty itself which charmed? It haunts no more.

Seventy Two William Carlos Williams 1963 He won at the end of his life for a book of poems on Bruegel. I guess if you want you can try to use words to compete with…Bruegel. Well, advertisers can make us taste beer, can’t they?

Seventy Three Rae Armantrout 2010 By the time she won, Ron Silliman’s avant-garde was getting desperate. It would try anything. Do you want to hear a few jokes?

Seventy Four Ted Kooser 2004 He nearly destroyed the Poetry Pulitzer’s reputation by winning. It was between the old avant-garde running out of steam and the complete triumph of Identity Politics. Remember that window? Kooser slipped in.

Seventy Five William Meredith 1988 Nice. And the dull, which tends to rust the nice, has done so.

Seventy Six Frank Bidart 2019 Highly interesting, but I had to rank him here because he borrows explicitly to such an extent. “Ellen West” enthralls me.

Seventy Seven James Wright. 1972 Just awfully sentimental. He was writing during a time when the sentimental had almost been demolished by High Modernism’s brutalist take-over—and I suppose there was a backlash.

Seventy Eight Caroline Kizer 1985 She has a Marianne Moore vibe.

Seventy Nine C.K Williams 2000 Long lines of exuberant tastelessness.

Eighty Gary Snyder 1975 In his poems we glimpse the real good life.

Eighty One Forrest Gander 2018 A highly self-conscious effort at stylishness is what jumps out at me from this winning book. Self-conscious stylishness (or at least what feels self-conscious) is what bothers me about Robert Lowell (he won during a hybrid era when warring Imagism and Romanticism had died in the 1920s, socialist ballads had died after the Hitler/Stalin pact, and post-WW II, ‘good and the stylish, vaguely blending old and new’ was what everyone was expecting) but Robert Lowell could at least versify somewhat.

Eighty Two Franz Wright 2004 An honest and tempestuous man, his poetic legacy now seems largely one of self-pity—with the occasional lyric of shining light.

Eighty Three Claudia Emerson 2006 Prosaic—as if the poem doesn’t know what she’s talking about—though we do.

Eighty Four Lisel Mueller 1997 Free verse without personality is like reading a dictionary or an encyclopedia. Some nice thoughts, but presented in such a way that the air doesn’t move. The sailboat doesn’t go.

Eighty Five Maxine Kumin 1973 She operates poetry’s ranger station.

Eighty Six Karl Shapiro 1945 Childish, description, poetry. Poetry which feels like an exercise. “The Fly,” for instance, is pure horror, and I don’t mean in a good way.

Eighty Seven Henry S. Taylor 1986 Perfected the Modernist, Iowa Workshop, mundane life-plain voice template.

Eighty Eight John Gould Fletcher 1939 He was the one, more than anyone else, who belonged, hesitantly, not intentionally, armed with money, to all the groupings of High Modernism—Amy Lowell’s, Pound’s, the Fugitives, disappointing them all, apparently, by not being loyal enough, or by not spending his money enough. He reminds me of that hapless friend of Iago’s who was advised, “sell all your lands!” He wrote perhaps the worst poem of all time in which he grieves for a “black rock,” sticking out of the ocean, over and over again, in the same way, over multiple stanzas.

Eighty Nine Mark Strand 1998 He represents the nadir of establishment 20th century American free verse. Once a highly acclaimed poet of zen-like poems of profound emptiness which now seem merely empty—the title poem of his winning book, “Blizzard of One,” is really about a single snow flake that floats into a man’s home and sits on his chair and “That’s all/There was to it.”

Here’s an earlier poem by Mark Strand from the late 70s. This was once considered good. I think I probably liked it at one time. Now it just seems embarrassing.

Eating Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

So there we have it—the best and the worst of the first hundred years of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Through WW II, nearly half the prizes (10) were given to Frost, EA Robinson, and the Benet brothers.

There has been only one repeat winner since 1989 (W.S. Merwin in 2009).

Depending on your taste, you may want to flip this ranking on its head.

But I’m sticking to this order.

For now.

MAN, THOSE DECADES IN AMERICAN POETRY WENT BY FAST

BEN MAZER: POEM FROM HIS FORTHCOMING BOOK | Scarriet

1770-1780 Phillis Wheatley (On Virtue)

O thou bright jewel in my aim I strive
To comprehend thee. Thine own words declare
Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach.
I cease to wonder, and no more attempt
Thine height t’explore, or fathom thy profound.
But, O my soul, sink not into despair,
Virtue is near thee, and with gentle hand
Would now embrace thee, hovers o’er thine head.
Fain would the heaven-born soul with her converse,
Then seek, then court her for her promised bliss.

Auspicious queen, thine heavenly pinions spread,
And lead celestial Chastity along;
Lo! now her sacred retinue descends,
Arrayed in glory from the orbs above.
Attend me, Virtue, thro’ my youthful years!
O leave me not to the false joys of time!
But guide my steps to endless life and bliss.
Greatness, or Goodness, say what I shall call thee,
To give an higher appellation still,
Teach me a better strain, a nobler lay,
O Thou, enthroned with Cherubs in the realms of day!

1780-1790  Philip Freneau  (The Indian Burying Ground)

In spite of all the learn’d have said;
I still my old opinion keep,
The posture, that we give the dead,
Points out the soul’s eternal sleep.

Not so the ancients of these lands —
The Indian, when from life releas’d
Again is seated with his friends,
And shares again the joyous feast.

His imag’d birds, and painted bowl,
And ven’son, for a journey dress’d,
Bespeak the nature of the soul,
Activity, that knows no rest.

His bow, for action ready bent,
And arrows, with a head of stone,
Can only mean that life is spent,
And not the finer essence gone.

Thou, stranger, that shalt come this way.
No fraud upon the dead commit —
Observe the swelling turf, and say
They do not lie, but here they sit.

Here still lofty rock remains,
On which the curious eye may trace,
(Now wasted, half, by wearing rains)
The fancies of a older race.

Here still an aged elm aspires,
Beneath whose far — projecting shade
(And which the shepherd still admires
The children of the forest play’d!

There oft a restless Indian queen
(Pale Shebah, with her braided hair)
And many a barbarous form is seen
To chide the man that lingers there.

By midnight moons, o’er moistening dews,
In habit for the chase array’d,
The hunter still the deer pursues,
The hunter and the deer, a shade!

And long shall timorous fancy see
The painted chief, and pointed spear,
And reason’s self shall bow the knee
To shadows and delusions here.

1790-1800  Joel Barlow  (The Hasty-Pudding, excerpt)

Ye Alps audacious, through the heavens that rise
To cramp the day and hide me from the skies;
Ye Gallic flags, that o’er their heights unfurl’d,
Bear death to kings, and freedom to the world,—
I sing not you.  A softer theme I choose,
A virgin theme, unconscious of the Muse,
But fruitful, rich, well suited to inspire
The purest frenzy of poetic fire.

Despise it not, ye bards to terror steel’d,
Who hurl’d your thunders round the epic field;
Nor ye who strain your midnight throats to sing,
Joys that the vineyard and the still-house bring;
Or on some fair your distant notes employ,
And speak of raptures that you ne’r enjoy.
I sing the sweets I know,—the charms I feel,—
My morning incense, and my evening meal—

1800-1810  John Quincy Adams (The Wants of Man, excerpt)

“Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long.”
‘Tis not with me exactly so;
But ’tis so in the song.
My wants are many and, if told,
Would muster many a score;
And were each wish a mint of gold,
I still should long for more.

1810-1820  Francis Scott Key (Defence of Fort McHenry, excerpt)

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

1820-1830  William Cullen Bryant  (Thanatopsis, excerpt)

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

1830-1840  Lydia Huntley Sigourney (Indian Names, excerpt)

Ye see their unresisting tribes,
With toilsome step and slow,
On through the trackless desert pass,
A caravan of woe;
Think ye the Eternal’s ear is deaf?
His sleepless vision dim?
Think ye the soul’s blood may not cry
From that far land to him?

1840-1850  Edgar Poe (The Raven, excerpt)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

1850-1860   Stephen Foster  (Old Kentucky Home, excerpt)

Weep no more, my lady,
Oh! weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,
For the old Kentucky Home far away.

1860-1870  Walt Whitman (O Captain! My Captain! excerpt)

O captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring.

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red!
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

1870-1880   Sidney Lanier  (Hymns of the Marshes, excerpt)

Over the monstrous shambling sea,
Over the Caliban sea,
Bright Ariel-cloud, thou lingerest:
Oh wait, oh wait, in the warm red West,—
Thy Prospero I’ll be.

1880-1890  Ellen Wheeler Wilcox  (Delilah, excerpt)

She touches my cheek, and I quiver
I tremble with exquisite pains;
She sighs – like an overcharged river
My blood rushes on through my veins;
She smiles – and in mad-tiger fashion,
As a she-tiger fondles her own,
I clasp her with fierceness and passion,
And kiss her with shudder and groan.

1890-1900   Ernest Fenollosa  (Fuji at Sunrise)

Startling the cool gray depths of morning air
She throws aside her counterpane of clouds,
And stands half folded in her silken shrouds
With calm white breast and snowy shoulder bare.
High o’er her head a flush all pink and rare
Thrills her with foregleam of an unknown bliss,
A virgin pure who waits the bridal kiss,
Faint with expectant joy she fears to share.
Lo, now he comes, the dazzling prince of day!
Flings his full glory o’er her radiant breast;
Enfolds her to the rapture of his rest,
Transfigured in the throbbing of his ray.
O fly, my soul, where love’s warm transports are;
And seek eternal bliss in yon pink kindling star!

1900-1910   John Whitcomb Riley  (Little Orphant Annie)

You better mind yer parents, and yer teachers fond and dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, ‘an dry the orphant’s tear,
‘An he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the gobble-uns ‘ll git you Ef You Don’t Watch Out!

1910-1920    Robert Frost  (The Road Not Taken)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

1920-1930    Dorothy Parker (A Very Short Song)

Once, when I was young and true,
Someone left me sad-
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.

1930-1940 Delmore Schwartz (Sonnet: O City, City)

To live between terms, to live where death
Has his loud picture in the subway ride,
Being amid six million souls, their breath
An empty song suppressed on every side,
Where the sliding auto’s catastrophe
Is a gust past the curb, where numb and high
The office building rises to its tryanny,
Is our anguished diminution until we die.

Whence, if ever, shall come the actuality
Of a voice speaking the mind’s knowing,
The sunlight bright on the green windowshade,
And the self articulate, affectionate, and flowing
Ease, warmth, light, the utter showing,
When in the white bed all things are made.

1940-1950   E.E. Cummings  (Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town, excerpt)

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

1950-1960   Allen Ginsberg  (Howl, excerpt)

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.

1960-1970    Sylvia Plath  (Daddy, excerpt)

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

1970-1980    John Ashbery  (Daffy Duck in Hollywood, excerpt)

But everything is getting choked to the point of
Silence. Just now a magnetic storm hung in the swatch of sky
Over the Fudds’ garage, reducing it–drastically–
To the aura of a plumbago-blue log cabin on
A Gadsden Purchase commemorative cover.

1980-1990     Dana Gioia  (My Confessional Sestina, excerpt)

Let me confess. I’m sick of these sestinas
written by youngsters in poetry workshops
for the delectation of their fellow students,
and then published in little magazines
that no one reads, not even the contributors
who at least in this omission show some taste.

1990-2000    Billy Collins  (Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey, excerpt)

Something will be missing
from this long, coffin-shaped room,
the walls and windows now
only two different shades of gray,

the glossy gardenia drooping
in its chipped terra-cotta pot.
And on the floor, shoes, socks,
the browning core of an apple.

Nothing will be as it was
a few hours ago, back in the glorious past
before our nap, back in that Golden Age
that drew to a close sometime shortly after lunch.

2000-2010   Franz Wright (A Happy Thought)

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

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

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

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

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

2010-2020 Ben Mazer (It rains. One steps up through the haze)

It rains. One steps up through the haze
of tan and violet to the maze
of memory—misty where one stands,
twisting, separating strands.

The hour’s dim, and no one calls;
obligation mutely falls
through floors of mountains, origin:
anonymously you begin.

The blasted lantern of the nerves
lights up the sky, where starlight curves;
below, on earth, some few pass by
sheer constructs of identity.

They swirl and plaster every sense,
unto a law of difference:
not clear how long, or what direction,
subsume the nerves in their inspection.

The skeleton’s examination
evokes, incites, brief procreation:
filed away, some future date
astonished memories locate.

The seraphs of pedestrians
seep into violets, into tans,
breaching desire’s boulevards;
throw down the last of evening’s cards.

There is no way to formulate
identity’s raw nervous state:
it seems to slip into the world,
by stellar facts and atoms hurled

into the mythic stratosphere.
Ideas formulate the seer.
Genesis sans generation.
A change of trains at London station.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF U.S. POETRY

Phillis Wheatley, Poems on various subjects, religious and moral - Age of  Revolution

1650 Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America: By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts published in London.

1773 Phillis Wheatley, a slave, publishes Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. During the American Revolution she wrote to George Washington, who thanked her, praised her poetry, and invited her to his headquarters.

1791 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is published in Paris, in French.  Ben Franklin’s Autobiography appears in London, for the first time in English, two years later.   Had it been published in America, the Europeans would have laughed.  The American experiment isn’t going to last, anyway.

Franklin, the practical man, the scientist, and America’s true founding father, weighs in on poetry: it’s frivolous.

1794  Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey make plans to go to Pennsylvania in a communal living experiment, but their personalities clash and the plan is aborted.  Southey becomes British Poet Laureate twenty years later.

1803  William Blake, author of “America: A Prophecy” is accused of crying out “Damn the King!” in Sussex, England, narrowly escaping imprisonment for treason.

1815  George Ticknor, before becoming literature Chair at Harvard, travels to Europe for 4 years, spending 17 months in Germany.

1817  “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant appears in the North American Review.

1824  Byron, who wanted to travel to America (he met George Ticknor in Europe), dies in Greece.

1824  Lafayette, during tour of U.S, calls on Edgar Poe’s grandmother, revolutionary war veteran widow.

1832  Washington Irving edits London edition of William Cullen Bryant’s Poems to avoid politically offending British readers.

1835 Massachusetts senator and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier mobbed and stoned in Concord, New Hampshire.

1835  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow appointed Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard.

1836  Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes 500 copies of Divinity School Address anonymously.  He will not publish another book for 6 years.

1838  Poe’s translated work begins appearing in Russia. Dostoevsky, influenced by Poe, publishes him.

1843  Transcendentalist, Unitarian minister, Harvard Divinity School student Christopher Pearse Cranch marries the sister of T.S. Eliot’s Unitarian grandfather; dedicates Poems to Emerson, published in The Dial, a magazine edited by Margaret Fuller and Emerson; frequent visitor to Brook Farm.  Cranch is more musical and sensuous than Emerson; even Poe can tolerate him; Cranch’s poem “Enosis” pre-figures Baudelaire’s “Correspondences.”

T.S. Eliot’s family is deeply rooted in New England Unitarianism and Transcendentalism through Cranch and Emerson’s connection to his grandfather, Harvard Divinity graduate, William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington U., St. Louis.

1845  Elizabeth Barrett writes Poe with news of “The Raven’s” popularity in England.  The poem appeared in a daily American newspaper and produced instant fame, though Poe’s reputation as a critic and leader of the Magazine Era was well-established.  During this period Poe coins “Heresy of the Didactic” and “A Long Poem Does Not Exist.”  In a review of Barrett’s 1840 volume of poems which led to Barrett’s fame before she met Robert Browning, Poe introduced his piece by saying he would not, as was typically done, review her work superficially because she was a woman. Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to Elizabeth Barrett. Then Robert Browning entered the picture.

1845 Poe accuses Longfellow of plagiarism.

1847  Ralph Waldo Emerson is in England, earning his living as an orator.

1848  Charles Baudelaire’s first translations of Poe appear in France.

1848  James Russell Lowell publishes “A Fable For Critics” anonymously.

1848 Female Poets of America, an anthology of poems by American women, is published by the powerful and influential anthologist, Rufus Griswold—who believes women naturally write a different kind of poetry.  Griswold’s earlier success, The Poets and Poetry of America (1842) contains 3 poems by Poe and 45 by Griswold’s friend, Charles Fenno Hoffman. In a review, Poe remarks that readers of anthologies buy them to see if they are in them.

1848  Poe publishes Eureka and the Rationale of Verse, exceptional works on the universe—and verse.

1849 Edgar Poe is apparently murdered in Baltimore; leading periodicals ignore strange circumstances of Poe’s death and one, Horace Greeley’s Tribune, hires Griswold (who signs his piece ‘Ludwig’) to take the occasion to attack the character of the poet. There is no press notice of Poe’s unusual passing. Baltimore Sun writer, Joseph Snodgrass, who happens to live close to where Poe is found in distress, and Poe’s hated cousin Neilson Poe (who happens to appear) are prime suspects according to Scarriet. The Baltimore Sun, like the New York Tribune, covers up any hint of foul play with bland and brief coverage.

1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes The Scarlett Letter. There is recent speculation the work is loosely based on Edgar Poe, Fanny Osgood, and Rufus Griswold.

1855 Griswold reviews Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and calls it a “mass of stupid filth.”  Griswold, whose second wife was apparently a man (their divorce is very complicated, involving Griswold lending out his daughter) fills his review with words such as “vileness,” “rotting,” and “shame.”  Whitman later includes the Griswold review in one of his editions of Leaves.

1856  English Traits, extolls the English race, claiming it was the English “character” that vanquished India, is published in the U.S. and England, by poet and new age priest Ralph Waldo Emerson, as England waits for the inevitable Civil War to tear her rival, America, apart.

1859.  In a conversation with William Dean Howells, Emerson calls Hawthorne’s latest book “mush” and furiously calls Poe “the jingle man.”

1860  William Cullen Bryant introduces Abraham Lincoln at Cooper Union; the poet advises the new president on his cabinet selection.

1867  First collection of African American “Slave Songs” published.

1883  “The New Colossus” is composed by Emma Lazarus; engraved on the Statue of Liberty, 1903

1883  Poems of Passion by Ella Wheeler Wilcox rejected by publisher on grounds of immorality.

1888 “Casey at the Bat” published anonymously. The author, Ernest Thayer, does not become known as the author of the poem until 1909—he is the uncle of Scofield Thayer, who will publish “The Waste Land” in the revived Dial.

1890  Emily Dickinson’s posthumous book published by Mabel Todd and Thomas Higginson.  William Dean Howells gives it a good review, and it sells well.

1893  William James, the “nitrous oxide philosopher,” Emerson’s godson, becomes Gertrude Stein’s influential professor at Harvard.

1896 Paul Laurence Dunbar publishes Lyrics of Lowly Life.

1897  Wallace Stevens enters Harvard, falling under the spell of William James, as well as George Santayana.

1904  Yone Noguchi publishes “Proposal to American Poets” as the Haiku rage begins in the United States and Britain, mostly due to Japan’s surprising victory in the Russo-Japanese War. Imagism, eventually celebrated as “new,” is merely a copy of haiku, and belongs to the same trend.

1910  John Crowe Ransom, Fugitive, Southern Agrarian, New Critic, takes a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University.

1910  John Lomax publishes “Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads.”

1912  Harriet Monroe founds Poetry magazine; in 1880s attended literary gatherings in New York with William Dean Howells and Richard Henry Stoddard (Poe biographer) and in 1890s met Whistler, Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Aubrey BeardsleyEzra Pound is Poetry’s London editor.

1913  American Imagist poet H.D. marries British Imagist poet Richard Aldington.

1913 The Armory Show in New York, which brings modern art to America, occurs under the guidance of Pound and T.S. Eliot’s attorney and modern art collector, John Quinn.

1914 Robert Frost meets Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell in London.

1914  Ezra Pound works as Yeats‘ secretary in Sussex, England.

1915  Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology published.  Masters was law partner of Clarence Darrow.

1916 Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke publish Spectra, a poetry hoax spoofing Imagism and everyone is fooled.

1917  Robert Frost begins teaching at Amherst College.

1920  “The Sacred Wood” by T.S. Eliot, banker, London. Decries “Hamlet.” Writes, “immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.”

1921  Margaret Anderson’s Little Review loses court case and is declared obscene for publishing a portion of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is banned in the United States.  Random House immediately tries to get the ban lifted in order to publish the work.

1922  T.S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” awarded The Dial Prize before Ezra Pound has finished editing it.

1922  D.H Lawrence and Frieda stay with Mabel Dodge in Taos, New Mexico.

1923  Edna St. Vincent Millay wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1923  William Butler Yeats wins Nobel Prize for Literature

1924  Robert Frost wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1924  Ford Maddox Ford founds the Transatlantic Review.   Stays with Allen Tate and Robert Lowell in his lengthy sojourn to America, and helps to found the American Writing Program Era.

1924  Marianne Moore wins The Dial Prize; becomes editor of The Dial the next year, as E.E. Cummings elopes with the retiring editor Scofield Thayer’s wife.

1924  James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children opens.

1925  E.E. Cummings wins The Dial Prize.

1926  Yaddo Artist Colony opens

1926 Dorothy Parker publishes her first book of poems, With Enough Rope.

1927  Walt Whitman biography wins Pulitzer Prize

1927 Laura Riding, who published poems in The Fugitive, together with Robert Graves, influence William Empson and the New Criticism with their Survey of Modernist Poetry. She’s almost killed jumping out a 4th story window 2 years later.

1929 Harry Crosby, Black Sun Press editor, free verse poet, nephew of JP Morgan, dies at 31 in suicide pact with his lover.

1930  “I’ll Take My Stand” published by Fugitive/Southern Agrarians and future New Critics, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, Allen Tate defend ways of the Old South.

1932  Paul Engle wins Yale Younger Poet Prize, judged by member of John Crowe Ransom’s Fugitive circle.  Engle, a prolific fundraiser, builds the Iowa Workshop into a Program Writing Empire.

1933  T.S. Eliot delivers his speech on “free-thinking jews” at the University of Virginia.

1934  “Is Verse A Dying Technique?” published by Edmund Wilson.

1936  New Directions founded by Harvard sophomore James Laughlin.

1937  Robert Lowell camps out in Allen Tate’s yard.  Lowell has left Harvard to study with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College. The trip by Lowell was recommended by the Lowell family psychiatrist, the Fugitive poet, Merrill Moore.

1938  First Edition of textbook Understanding Poetry by New Critics Brooks and Warren, helps to canonize unread poets Williams and Pound, while attacking Poe.

1938  Aldous Huxley moves to Hollywood.

1938 Delmore Schwartz publishes In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, at 25, a smash-hit volume of short stories and poetry.

1939  Allen Tate starts Writing Program at Princeton.

1939  W.H. Auden moves to the United States and earns living as college professor.

1940  Mark Van Doren is awarded Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1941 F.O. Matthiessen publishes American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman.

1943  Ezra Pound indicted for treason by the United States government.

1946  Wallace Stegner founds Stanford Writing Program.  Yvor Winters will teach Pinsky, Haas, Hall and Gunn.

1948  Pete Seeger, nephew of WW I poet Alan Seeger (“I Have A Rendezvous With Death”) forms The Weavers, the first singer-songwriter ‘band’ in the rock era.

1948  T.S. Eliot wins Nobel Prize

1949  T.S. Eliot viciously attacks Poe in From Poe To Valery

1949  Ezra Pound is awarded the Bollingen Prize.  The poet Robert Hillyer protests and Congress resolves its Library will no longer fund the award.  Hillyer accuses Paul Melon, T.S. Eliot and New Critics of a fascist conspiracy.

1949 Elizabeth Bishop appointed U.S. Poet Laureate.

1950  William Carlos Williams wins first National Book Award for Poetry

1950  Gwendolyn Brooks wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1950 W.S Merwin tutors Robert Graves‘ son in Majorca.

1951  John Crowe Ransom, the Modernist T.S. Eliot of the American South, is awarded the Bollingen Prize.

1953  Dylan Thomas dies in New York City.

1954  Theodore Roethke wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1955 John Ashbery wins Yale Younger Prize for Some Trees. Judge W.H. Auden requested the manuscript.

1957  Allen Tate is awarded the Bollingen.

1957  “Howl” by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg triumphs in obscenity trial as the judge finds book “socially redeeming;” wins publicity in Time & Life.

1957  New Poets of England and America, Donald Hall, Robert Pack, Louis Simspon, eds.

1959  Carl Sandburg wins Grammy for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

1959  M.L Rosenthal coins the term “Confessional Poetry” in The Nation as he pays homage to Robert Lowell.

1959 Donald Justice wins the Lamont Poetry Prize for Summer Anniversaries.

1960  New American Poetry 1945-1960, Donald Allen, editor.

1961  Yvor Winters is awarded the Bollingen.

1961  Denise Levertov becomes poetry editor of The Nation.

1961  Louis Untermeyer appointed Poet Laureate Consultant In Poetry To the Library of Congress (1961-63)

1961 Robert Graves appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford—holds the post until 1966.

1962  Sylvia Plath takes her own life in London.

1964  John Crowe Ransom wins The National Book Award for Selected Poems. His Kenyon Review is where Plath and other poets were most eager to publish.

1964  Keats biography by W.Jackson Bate wins Pulitzer. The Burden of the Past and the English Poet by the same author predates, and is a more readable version of, Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence.

1965  Horace Gregory is awarded the Bollingen.  Gregory had attacked the poetic reputation of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

1967  Anne Sexton wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1968  Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, directed by Zeffirelli, nominated for Best Picture by Hollywood.

1971  The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner published.  Kenner, a friend of William F. Buckley, Jr., saved Pound’s reputation with this work; Kenner also savaged the reputation of Millay.

1971  W.S Merwin wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1972  John Berryman jumps to his death off bridge near University of Minnesota.

Berryman’s classes in the 50’s were filled with future prize-winners, not necessarily because he and his students were great, but because his students were on the ground-floor of the Writing Program era.

1972  Frank O’Hara wins National Book Award for Collected Poems

1974 Anne Sexton commits suicide.

1975  Gary Snyder wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1976  Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow’s novel on Delmore Schwartz, wins Pulitzer.

1976 John Ashbery wins Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award for Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror

1977 Gerald Stern wins the Lamont Poetry Prize, Judges Alan Dugan, Philip Levine, and Charles Wright.

1978  Language magazine, Bernstein & Andrews, begins 4 year run.  Charles Bernstein studied J.L Austin’s brand of ‘ordinary language philosophy’ at Harvard.

1980  Helen Vendler wins National Book Critics Circle Award

1981 Seamus Heaney becomes Harvard visiting professor.

1981 Carolyn Forche wins the Lamont Poetry Prize for The Country Between Us.

1981  Derek Walcott founds Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University.

1981  Oscar Wilde biography by Richard Ellman wins Pulitzer.

1982  Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems wins Pulitzer.

1984  Harold Bloom savagely attacks Poe in review of Poe’s Library of America works (2 vol) in New York Review of Books, repeating similar attacks by Yvor Winters, Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot.

1984 Charles Bernstein at a poetry conference in Alabama mentions the “policemen of official verse culture.” Gerald Stern presses Bernstein to name names. He does not—except to mention T.S. Eliot as being disliked by WC Williams.

1984  Marc Smith founds Slam Poetry in Chicago.

1984  Mary Oliver is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1985 Gwendolyn Brooks appointed U.S. Poet Laureate for 1985-6.

1986  Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, a novel in verse, is published.

1987  The movie “Barfly” depicts life of Charles Bukowski.

1988  David Lehman’s Best American Poetry Series debuts with John Ashbery as first guest editor.  The first words of the first poem (by A.R. Ammons) in the Series are: William James.

1990 Robert Bly publishes Iron John.

1991  “Can Poetry Matter?” by Dana Gioia is published in The Atlantic. According to the author, poetry has become an incestuous viper’s pit of academic hucksters.

1996  Jorie Graham wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1997 Kent Johnson and Tosa Motokiyu are suspected authors of Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, one of the richest and greatest controversies in world letters.

1999  Peter Sacks wins Georgia Prize, Jorie Graham, judge.

1999  Billy Collins signs 3-book, 6-figure deal with Random House.

2002  Ron Silliman’s Blog founded. Silliman will attack “quietism” while defending the poetry avant-garde.

2002  Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club wins Pulitzer Prize.

2002  Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems published.

2004  Foetry.com founded by Alan Cordle. The site looks at Poetry Prizes, judges, and poets, in a controversial manner. Shortly before his death, Robert Creeley defends his poetry colleagues on Foetry.com.

2004  Franz Wright wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005 Ted Kooser wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005 The LA Times call Alan Cordle “the most despised…most feared man” in American poetry.”

2005  William Logan wins National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

2006  Fulcrum No. 5, editors Philip Nikolayev, Katia Kapovich, appears, featuring works of Landis Everson and his editor, Ben Mazer, also Eliot Weinberger, Glyn Maxwell, Joe Green, and Marjorie Perloff.

2007 Joan Houlihan dismisses Foetry.com as “losers” in a Poets & Writers letter. Defends the integrity of Georgia and Tupelo press.

2007  Paul Muldoon succeeds Alice Quinn as poetry editor of The New Yorker.

2007 Frank Bidart wins the Bollingen Prize.

2009 Fanny Howe is awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

2009  The Program Era by Mark McGurl, published by Harvard University Press, an historic look at college creative writing.

2009  Following the mass banning of Alan Cordle, Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman from The Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet (which soon bans all public comments), they decide to create Blog Scarriet (September 1 2009 to present)

2010 Sir Christopher Ricks publishes True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell Under the Sign of Eliot and Pound.

2011 Rita Dove publishes her Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff object to her choices. Scarriet defends Dove.

2012 Natasha Trethewey is appointed U.S. Poet Laureate

2013 Mark Edmundson, U VA professor, attacks the quality of contemporary poetry in Harper’s magazine.

2013 Sharon Olds wins the Pulitzer for Stag’s Leap.

2013 Don Share becomes editor of Poetry.

2013 Patricia Lockwood’s poem “Rape Joke” goes viral on social media.

2013 Paul Lewis, professor, brings Poe statue to Boston—the Jingle Man returneth.

2014 Billy Collins interviews Paul McCartney.

2014 Maya Angelou dies.

2014 Peter Gizzi publishes Selected Poems.

2015 Derek Michael Hudson is controversially published as Yi-Fen Chou in David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series, Sherman Alexie, guest editor.

2015 Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric wins multiple poetry and criticism awards, and is on New York Times bestseller list in nonfiction.

2016 Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize in Literature.

2016 Ron Padgett writes 3 poems for the film Paterson.

2016 Helen Vendler reviews Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom, editor, Ben Mazer, in NYR

2017 John Ashbery dies.

2017 William Logan, poet, and the best-know poetry reviewer in America, accuses Norton editor Jill Bialosky of plagiarism. Her book is called Poetry Will Save Your Life.

2017 Garrison Keillor, who broadcasts contemporary poems in his Writer’s Almanac, accused of sexual harassment.

2017 Jorie Graham wins the Wallace Stevens Award with a stipend of $100,000.

2017 Kevin Young becomes poetry editor of The New Yorker.

2017 Kenneth Goldsmith lives and dies by “found poem.” Autopsy of Michael Brown causes outrage.

2018 Anders Carlson-Wee apologizes for his poem in the Nation.

2019 Marilyn Chin is awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

2020 Ben Mazer resurrects the poems of Harry Crosby.

2020 Louise Gluck wins Nobel Prize for Literature.

2020 Don Share resigns as editor of Poetry for publishing poem by Michael Dickman.

2021 Amanda Gorman reads at Joe Biden’s inauguration.

2021 Thomas Graves, a Scarriet editor, publishes Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism.

THE PLAYOFFS

Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973) - Find A Grave Memorial

Noel Coward, the Gamers shortstop, relaxing before Game One in Dublin against the Laureates.

Welcome to the first game of the Scarriet Poetry Baseball Playoffs, and Boston, Massachusetts, home of the Society Division champions, Ben Franklin’s Secrets, managed by George Washington, with the best record in the league. The Secrets take on the Florence Banners, the Wild Card Team who finished second in the Glorious Division with a solid 89 and 65 record, in a best of seven series, two in Boston, three in Florence, two in Boston (if necessary).

Here are the line ups and starters for the first game in Boston.

Florence Banners
Motto: “The One remains, the many change and pass.”
Owner Lorenze de Medici, Manager Desi Erasmus, Pitching Coach Pope Leo X
Game One Starter: Dante Alighieri

1. Ben Mazer CF .272
2. Christina Rossetti LF .281
3. John Keats 2B .279
4. Friedrich Schiller 1B .254
5. Guido Cavalcanti 3B .271
6. Thomas Moore SS .291
7. DG Rossetti RF .280
8. Glyn Maxwell C .246
9. Dante Alighieri P 17-12 3.39

Boston Secrets
Motto: “We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune.”
Owner B Franklin, Manager G Washington, Pitching Coach Clarence Thomas
Game One Starter: Edgar Allan Poe

1. Nathaniel Hawthorne CF .273
2. Cole Porter 1B .297
3. Emily Dickinson C .278
4. Woody Guthrie 2B .265
5. Robert Frost SS .275
6. Carl Sandburg 3B .295
7. Paul Simon RF .270
8. Kanye West LF .267
9. Edgar Allan Poe P 14-12 3.10

~~~

Here are the other two Playoff games, and lineups:

Welcome to Dublin, Ireland, where the Glorious Division champs host the Peoples Division champs, the LA Gamers!

LA Gamers
Motto: “He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife.”
Owner Merv Griffin, Manager Bob Hope, Pitching Coach Lorne Michaels
Game One Starter: Lewis Carroll

1. Noel Coward SS .317
2. John Betjeman CF .325
3. Billy Collins LF .284
4. Eugene Ionesco C .279
5. Thomas Hood 2B .272
6. Joe Green 3B .261
7. Tristan Tzara 1B .267
8. Ogden Nash 3B .268
9. Lewis Carroll P 17-13 3.04 ERA

Dublin Laureates
Motto: “Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands.”
Owner Nahum Tate, Manager Ronald Reagan, Pitching Coach Arthur Guinness
Game One Starter: Jonathan Swift

1. Sarah Teasdale 2B .313
2. Oliver Goldsmith CF .275
3. Alexandre Dumas LF .338
4. Charles Dickens 1B .359
5. Aphra Behn RF .262
6. Mirza Ghalib 3B .254
7. Boris Pasternak C .242
8. JK Rowling SS .228
9. Jonathan Swift P 22-5 2.80 ERA

~~

Welcome to Spain, where the Madrid Crusaders, champions of the Emperor Division host the Phoenix Universe, the Modern Division champs, in game one of the first round of the playoffs.

Phoenix Universe
Motto: “I know why the caged bird sings”
Owner Steven Spielberg, Manager Billy Beane, Pitching Coach Tom Hanks
Game One Starter: Harriet Beecher Stowe

1. Chuck Berry 3B .377
2. Maya Angelou C .316
3. Bob Dylan 2B .252
4. Decimus Juvenal RF .260
5. Paul Celan SS .249
6. Delmore Schwartz CF .247
7. Philip Levine LF .231
8. Anthony Hecht 1B .229
9. Harriet Beecher Stowe P 14-15 2.83

Madrid Crusaders
Motto: “If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me.”
Owner Philip II, Manager Miguel Cervantes, Pitching Coach Christopher Columbus
Game One Starter: Ludwig Van Beethoven

1. Gerard Manley Hopkins CF .281
2. Hilaire Belloc C .280
3. Anne Bradstreet 3B .373
4. Aeschylus CF .253
5. Mary Angela Douglas SS .300
6. Joyce Kilmer RF .265
7. Phillis Wheatley LF .252
8. Countee Cullen 1B .245
9. Beethoven P 14-5 2.22

And away we go!

 

 

SOCIETY DIVISION CHAMPS: BOSTON SECRETS

Kim Kardashian WEST Takes Home Woman of the Year at the GQ Awards

Kanye West, .267 batting avg. and 15 homers as left fielder for the Boston Secrets

When you have two starting pitchers, like Plato (25-8) and Pushkin (19-5), each with 5 shutouts, it would be shocking if you didn’t run away with the title. This is what Ben Franklin’s Boston Secrets did, winning the Society Division (some call it the Secret Society Division) by 14 games over the second place Connecticut Animals, owned by P.T. Barnum.

The poor Animals. Amy Lowell finished with a 22-5 record, and 4 shutouts, and Ovid added 19 wins and 5 shut outs—surely this team should have at least made the playoffs! The Animals third-best pitcher, Jules Verne, won 15, and Poe, third-best pitcher for the Secrets, won 14. But the Animals had a low team batting average, didn’t have a very good bullpen (AA Milne became their go-to guy when he joined the club in July,) not a lot of team speed, had lapses on defense, and Animals starter Herman Melville lost 21 games.  The Secrets ran well, fielded well, hit a little better, and their “Founding Father” bullpen was solid.

The Secrets also had great team chemistry. Kanye West: “I love my teammates…Plato is the most amazing guy. Poe is hard to talk to. I love Eddie, though. He’s real quiet, but you can tell he’s thinking all the time. Paul Simon made me feel at home, in his quiet way. Pushkin. Pushkin doesn’t sit still. He’s like me. He shares what he knows about poetry. Everyone talks poetry after the game. I don’t know if I belong on this team. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how I hit home runs. Pushkin told me, ‘You only have to know it right now—even as you forget it, so don’t worry about what you know. Ever.’ I said, man, I want to write that down, after he said that. Maybe it doesn’t make sense. It made sense to me. I borrowed a piece of paper from Moliere. Bobby [Robert Frost] gave me a pen. Pushkin laughed. ‘You writing this down?’ Emily [Dickinson] gave me a pencil. Bobby’s pen didn’t work. We all made fun of Bobby because his pen didn’t work. I pretended to be in agony, because the damn pen didn’t work. (laughing) Emily was so glad she had a pencil for me. This team is the best.”

The Secrets are the first seed, so they will play the wild card team, the Florence Banners, in round one of the playoffs.

Secrets 95 59  Winner Owner Ben Franklin, Manager George Washington, Team Leaders: Frost 31 homers, Cole Porter .297, Hawthorne 35 SB, Plato 25-8, Plato 2.21 ERA

Animals 81 73  Owner, PT Barnum, Manager Walt Disney, Edward Lear 25, Seamus Heaney .322, Jack Spicer 16 SB, Amy Lowell 22-5, Amy Lowell 2.79

War     78 76  Owner JP Morgan, Manager Niccolo Machiavelli, Philip Sidney 24, Rupert Brooke .352, Rupert Brooke 37 SB, Remarque 18-12, Walter Scott 3.01

Strangers 67 87  Owner David Lynch, Manager Bram Stoker, Rimbaud 33, Mary Shelley .318, Mary Shelley 24 SB, Pope 15-12, Nietzsche 3.89

Actors  66 88  Owner Harvey Weinstein, Manager Johnny Depp, Hafiz 28, Hafiz .297, Skelton 25 SB, Chaucer 15-11, Chaucer 3.36

 

 

SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL STATS

Amazon.com: Woody Allen wearing a baseball uniform Photo Print (24 ...

The first place LA Gamers were in last place when they signed Woody Allen (7-2).

WINS

Rimini Broadcasters  Owner, Fellini, Manager Claudius, Motto, “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.”  50-62, Fifth

Maurice Ravel 4-1
Samuel Coleridge 8-6
George Orwell 10-7
Jacques Lacan 6-5
Vladimir Nabokov 9-15
Giacomo Leopardi 6-10
Paul Valery 3-7
Alfred Hitchcock 1-5

Corsica Codes Owner, Napoleon Bonaparte, Manager, Alexander the Great, Motto “Let the more loving one be me” 57-55 Second

William Logan 3-1
Homer 13-6
Hegel 13-7
Kant 8-9
Balzac 8-11
Cicero 7-11
Hesiod 3-7
Edmund Wilson 2-3
Wislawa Szymborska 0-0

Madrid Crusaders  Owner, Philip II of Spain, Manager Christopher Columbus, Motto “If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me.” 57-55 Second

Beethoven 9-2
Handel 14-4
Mozart 5-4
Thomas Aquinas 9-13
GK Chesterton 4-5
St. John of the Cross 4-5
George Berkeley 5-7
Plotinus 3-7
Scarlatti 2-2
Joan of Arc 1-0
Tolkien 1-2
Lisieux 0-3

Paris Goths Owner, Charles X, Manager, Arthur Schopenhauer, Motto “Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith.” 60-52 First

Francois Chateaubriand 16-7
Oscar Wilde 13-6
Johann Goethe 12-8
Goya 7-8
Thomas de Quincey 2-0
AW Schlegel 3-4
Gautier 2-4
Dostoevsky 1-1
Camille Paglia 0-2
Baudelaire 3-13

Rome Ceilings  Owner, Pope Julius II, Manager Cardinal Richelieu, Motto “They also serve who only stand and wait.” 60-52 First

GE Lessing 6-3
John Milton 12-7
Ludovico Ariosto 12-8
JS Bach 10-7
Augustine 10-9
John Dryden 8-10
Octavio Paz 1-1
George Gascoigne 1-4
Vivaldi 0-1

Berlin Pistols  Owner, Eva Braun, Manager Randolph Churchill, Motto “A life subdued to its instrument.” 49-63 Fifth

TS Eliot 12-10
William James 11-9
Richard Wagner 7-5
Rufus Griswold 4-3
George Santayana 4-9
Ezra Pound 3-4
Ernest Hemingway 3-8
Horace Greeley 3-6
Hugh Kenner 1-2
Wyndham Lewis 1-6

London Carriages  Owner, Queen Victoria, Manager, Prince Albert, Motto “Ours but to do and die.” 57-55 Third

Andrew Marvell 13-7
Henry James 11-10
Virginia Woolf 11-11
William Hazlitt 9-13
Charles Lamb 3-1
Descartes 3-2
Charlotte Bronte 3-2
Jeremy Bentham 3-9

Florence Banners Owner, Lorenzo de Medici, Manager, Erasmus, Motto “The One remains, the many change and pass.” 60-52 Second

Percy Shelley 15-7
Virgil 13-8
Leonardo da Vinci 10-8
Dante 11-10
Marsilio Ficino 2-1
Boccaccio 5-6
Sandro Botticelli 2-4
William Rossetti 1-3
Bronzino 0-2

The Devon Sun  Owner, PM Lord Russell, Manager, Winston Churchill, Motto “A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.” 51-61 Fourth

John Ruskin 7-3
Bertrand Russell 7-3
Aldous Huxley 11-9
Ralph Emerson 10-12
JS Mill 6-9
Thomas Carlyle 8-15
Henry Thoreau 2-6
Christopher Ricks 0-3

Dublin Laureates Owner, Nahum Tate, Manager, President Ronald Reagan, Motto “Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands.” 64-48 First

Jonathan Swift 16-3
Livy 10-5
Pascal 6-2
Robert Louis Stevenson 9-3
Samuel Johnson 8-8
JD Salinger 2-1
Dana Gioia 2-1
Hans Christian Anderson 1-0
Robert Boyle 4-5
Thomas Peacock 2-7
Edmund Burke 3-9
Arthur Conan Doyle 0-0

Westport Actors  Owner, Harvey Weinstein, Manager, Johnny Depp, Motto “I am no hackney for your rod.” 48-64 Fourth

Chaucer 11-7
Petronius 10-10
Sade 8-8
George Byron 7-7
Norman Mailer 4-7
Richard Rorty 2-3
Henry Beecher 3-7
Andre Gide 1-4
Flaubert 0-6
Hugh Hefner 0-0
Erich Fromm 0-0

Virginia Strangers  Owner, David Lynch, Manager, Bram Stoker, Motto “So still is day, it seems like night profound.” 43-69 Fifth

Alexander Pope 11-9
HP Lovecraft 5-3
Franz Kafka 5-5
Robert Bloch 2-2
Friedrich Nietzsche 7-12
Salvador Dali 3-7
Samuel Beckett 3-9
Shirley Jackson 2-5
Albert Camus 2-11
Philip K Dick 1-3
Luis Bunuel 0-2
Antonin Artaud 0-3
Jean-Luc Godard 0-0

Connecticut Animals  Owner, PT Barnum, Manager, Walt Disney, Motto “Majesty and love are incompatible.” 60-52 Second

Amy Lowell 16-4
Jules Verne 14-9
Ovid 13-8
A.A. Milne 5-4
Melville 7-15
Robert Bly 2-5
Jose y Ortega Gasset 2-0
Gerard de Nerval 1-6
Christopher Hitchens 0-0

The New York War Owner, JP Morgan, Manager, Machiavelli, Motto “The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them.” 60-52 Second

Jack London 5-1
Erich Remarque 15-8
Walter Scott 12-6
William Shakespeare 11-7
Julius Caesar 4-4
Giordano Bruno 2-2
David Hume 9-13
Edward Gibbon 1-4
Richard Aldington 1-6

Boston Secrets Owner, Ben Franklin, Manager, George Washington Motto “We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune.” 71-41 First

Plato 18-6 -leads league
Pushkin 13-4
Edgar Poe 11-8
Moliere 10-9
Thomas Jefferson 5-1
James Monroe 4-2
James Madison 2-1
F Scott Fitzgerald 2-2
Alexander Hamilton 1-1
F Scott Key 4-7

Kolkata Cobras Owner, Satyajit Ray, Manager Rupi Kaur, Motto “Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me?” 58-54 Second

Gandhi 14-10
Rumi 13-8
Rabindranith Tagore 13-12
Hermann Hesse 8-10
Kabir Das 4-5
Nissim Ezekiel 2-0
Raja Rao 1-0
Faiz A Faiz 1-1
Krishnamurti 1-1
Kannada 1-2
Ramavtar Sarma 1-2
Acharya Shivapujan Sahay 0-1
Hoshang Merchant 0-1
Suryakant Tripathi 0-0
Sri Ramakrishna 0-0

The Tokyo Mist Owner, Kurosawa, Manager Eiji Yoshikawa, Motto “In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto.” 45-67 Fifth

Yukio Mishima 12-10
Yone Noguchi 9-9
Issa 10-14
Basho 7-11
Haruki Murakami 3-3
Kobe Abe 2-7
Takaaki Yoshimoto 1-1
Heraclitus 1-2
Murasaki Shikibu 1-3
DT Suzuki 0-5
Mitsuyo Kakuta 0-2

Beijing Waves Owner, Chairman Mao, Manager Jack Dorsey, Motto “Death gives separation repose.” 58-54 Second

Lao Tzu 15-7
Voltaire 14-9
Confucius 8-4
Lucretius 12-11
Rousseau 8-13
Lu Xun 1-0
Lenin 1-0
Khomeini 1-4
Friedrich Engles 0-1
Ho Chi Minh 0-3

Santa Barbara Laws Owner, Dick Wolf, Manager Moshe Rabbenu, Motto “In poetry everything is clear and definite.” 57-55 Third

Francis Bacon 13-11
Aristotle 11-10
Horace 10-12
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 8-9
Ferdinand Saussure 5-3
Mark Van Doren 4-2
Quintilian 3-3
Ring Lardner Jr. 1-0
Yvor Winters 1-1
ML Rosenthal 1-2
Frank Stella 0-1
Frederick Law Olmstead 0-1

Los Angeles Gamers, Owner Merv Griffin, Manager, Bob Hope, Motto “He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife” 60-52 First

Menander 11-4
Woody Allen 7-2
Democritus 10-6
Lewis Carroll 11-10
Charlie Chaplin 5-3
James Tate 5-5
Christian Morgenstern 3-3
Clive James 2-1
EE Cummings 1-0
Muhammad Ali 1-0
Garrison Keillor 1-2
Derrida 1-7
Antoine de Saint Exupery 0-1
Charles Bernstein 0-4

Arden Dreamers Owner, Pamela Digby Churchill Harriman, Manager, Averell Harriman Motto  “Not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me.” 50-62 Fifth

Mary Wollstonecraft 8-4
Margaret Atwood 11-10
Anais Nin 10-13
Jane Austen 4-2
Floyd Dell 4-4
bell hooks 2-1
Helene Cixous 2-1
Michael Ondaaatje 1-0
Jean-Paul Sartre 2-3
Louise Gluck 1-3
Simone de Beauvoir 2-6
Germaine Greer 2-8
William Godwin 1-4
Frida Kahlo 0-0
Diego Rivera 0-0

Manhattan Printers Owner, Andy Warhol, Manager, Brian Epstein, Motto “The eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up.” 52-60 Fourth

Hans Holbein (the Younger) 10-2
John Cage 6-2
Marcel Duchamp 7-7
Marjorie Perloff 8-13
Hilton Kramer 4-3
Toulouse Lautrec 3-2
Paul Klee 6-7
Guy Davenport 1-1
F.O. Matthiessen 3-4
RP Blackmur 2-4
Stephanie Burt 1-6
Mark Rothko 1-8

Chicago Buyers Owner, John D. Rockefeller, Manager, Charles Darwin, Motto “Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?” 61-51 First

Paul Engle 13-11
Mark Twain 12-7
Sigmund Freud 12-10
Walt Whitman 9-11
Helen Vendler 5-4
Judith Butler 3-2
J.L. Austin 2-3
WK Wimsatt 1-2
Monroe Beardsley 1-2
Thomas Hart Benton 0-0

The Philadelphia Crash, Owner, AC Barnes, Manager Cezanne, Motto “But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us.” 55-57 Third

John Crowe Ransom 12-7
Pablo Picasso 7-3
John Dewey 12-10
Ludwig Wittgenstein 10-11
Walter Pater 8-11
Jackson Pollock 4-6
Walter Benjamin 1-0
Clement Greenberg 1-2
IA Richards 0-3
Kenneth Burke 0-1
Roger Fry 0-1

The Phoenix Universe, Owner Steven Spielberg, Manager, Billy Beane, Motto “I know why the caged bird sings.” 59-53 Second

Jean Cocteau 8-1
Raymond Carver 8-3
Czeslaw Milosz 7-2
Harriet Beecher Stowe 9-10
Martin Luther King Jr 5-4
Michel Foucault 4-3
Harold Bloom 5-6
Lucien Freud 4-5
Marge Piercy 3-5
Lionel Trilling 2-3
Eric Said 2-3
Randall Jarrell 3-6
Timothy Leary 0-0

HOME RUNS BY TEAM

EMPEROR DIVISION

Robert Burns Broadcasters 20
Anne Sexton Broadcasters 16
Rainer Maria Rilke Broadcasters 16
Jim Morrison Broadcasters 10
Mick Jagger Broadcasters 6
Gregory Corso Broadcasters 6

Victor Hugo Codes 29
WH Auden Codes 25
Jean Racine Codes 21
Wole Soyinka Codes 12
Derek Walcott Codes 8
Jules Laforgue Codes 6

Anne Bradstreet Crusaders 23
Aeschylus Crusaders 23
Mary Angela Douglas Crusaders 15
Joyce Kilmer Crusaders 10
Phillis Wheatley Crusaders 9
Saint Ephrem Crusaders 8

Sophocles Goths 25
Heinrich Heine Goths 21
Torquato Tasso Goths 14
Madame de Stael 8
Friedrich Holderlin Goths 7
Thomas Chatterton Goths 6
Dan Sociu Goths 3

Euripides Ceilings 20
Edmund Spenser Ceilings 14
William Blake Ceilings 8
Michelangelo Ceilings 8
John Milton Ceilings 7
Tulsidas Ceilings 5

GLORIOUS DIVISION

Yeats Pistols 29
James Joyce Pistols 22
Ted Hughes Pistols 18
John Quinn Pistols 12
DH Lawrence Pistols 9
Alistair Crowley Pistols 8
Ford Maddox Ford Pistols 5
T.S. Eliot Pistols 5

Henry Longfellow Carriages 22
Alfred Tennyson Carriages 18
Robert Browning Carriages 15
GB Shaw Carriages 11
Paul McCartney Carriages 11
Sylvia Plath Carriages 6
Elizabeth Barrett Carriages 5

Friedrich Schiller Banners 29
DG Rossetti Banners 19
John Keats Banners 14
Ben Mazer Banners 10
Stefan George Banners 9
Christina Rossetti Banners 8
Dante Banners 5
Glyn Maxwell Banners 4

William Wordsworth Sun 26
Matthew Arnold Sun 16
Rudyard Kipling Sun 16
Horace Walpole Sun 13
HG Wells Sun 11
Ralph Emerson Sun 8
Margaret Fuller Sun 5

Alexandre Dumas Laureates 24
Charles Dickens Laureates 24
Aphra Behn Laureates 18
JK Rowling Laureates 13
Sarah Teasdale Laureates 12
Ghalib Laureates 12
Boris Pasternak Laureates 8
Oliver Goldsmith Laureates 6
John Townsend Trowbridge Laureates 6

SOCIETY DIVISION

Thomas Nashe Actors 22
Hafiz Actors 19
Amiri Baraka Actors 10
Gwendolyn Brooks Actors 7
Leonard Cohen Actors 6
Johnny Rotten Actors 4
Marilyn Hacker Actors 3
Audre Lorde Actors 3

Francois Rabelais Strangers 22
Arthur Rimbaud Strangers 22
Theodore Roethke Strangers 18
Knut Hamsun Strangers 7
Mary Shelley Strangers 3

Edward Lear Animals 16
Wallace Stevens Animals 14
Seamus Heaney Animals 10
Lawrence Ferlinghetti Animals 8
Marianne Moore Animals 8
Jack Spicer Animals 7

Stephen Crane War 16
Harry Crosby War 15
Phillip Sidney War 11
Wilfred Owen War 11
Apollinaire War 10
James Dickey War 9
William Shakespeare War 5
Robert Graves War 5
Howard Nemerov  War 5

Robert Frost Secrets 24
Emily Dickinson Secrets 20
Woody Guthrie Secrets 13
Kanye West Secrets 10
Nathaniel Hawthorne Secrets 8
Cole Porter Secrets 6
Stephen Cole Secrets 5
Paul Simon Secrets 4
Edgar Poe Secrets 4

PEOPLES DIVISION

Vikram Seth Cobras 22
Jadoo Akhtar Cobras 21
George Harrison Cobras 20
Gajanan Muktibodh Cobras 10
Anand Thakore Cobras 9
Allen Ginsberg Cobras 8
Kalidasa Cobras 4
Jeet Thayil Cobras 4
Adil Jussawala Cobras 4
Daipayan Nair Cobras 3

John Lennon Mist 19
Hilda Doolittle  Mist 18
Sadakichi Hartmann Mist 16
Yoko Ono Mist 8
Haruki Murakami Mist 6
Gary Snyder Mist 5
Natsume Soseki  Mist 5

Li Po Waves 26
Tu Fu Waves 18
Karl Marx Waves 18
Li He Waves 6
Bertolt Brecht Waves 4

John Donne Laws 22
Thomas Hardy Laws 17
Martial Laws 13
Donald Hall Laws 7
Jane Kenyon Laws 6
Reed Whitmore Laws 6
Antonio Machado Laws 6
Walter Raleigh Laws 5

Eugene Ionesco Gamers 26
Billy Collins Gamers 25
Thomas Hood Gamers 17
Joe Green Gamers 8
Ernest Thayer Gamers 4
John Betjeman Gamers 4

MODERN DIVISION

Sharon Olds Dreamers 24
Edna Millay Dreamers 22
Louis MacNeice Dreamers 20
Jack Gilbert Dreamers 10
Stevie Smith Dreamers 9
Richard Lovelace Dreamers 8
Louise Bogan Dreamers 5
Carolyn Forche Dreamers 4

Aristophanes Printers 24
John Updike Printers 24
Garcia Lorca Printers 11
John Ashbery Printers 10
Andre Breton Printers 9
Lou Reed Printers 7
Hart Crane Printers 6
Christopher Isherwood Printers 5
Marcel Duchamp Printers 5
James Baldwin Printers 5

Elizabeth Bishop Buyers 30 —leads  league
Dylan Thomas Buyers 25
Robert Lowell Buyers 17
Edgar Lee Masters Buyers 8
Kenneth Rexroth Buyers 8
Walt Whitman Buyers 6
Robert Penn Warren Buyers 5
Duke Ellington Buyers 5

Allen Tate Crash 20
Stephen Spender Crash 19
Franz Werfel Crash 11
Donald Davidson Crash 8
Archilochus Crash 8
John Gould Fletcher Crash 6
John Crowe Ransom Crash 6
WC Williams Crash 3
Stanley Kunitz Crash 3

Bob Dylan Universe 24
Juvenal Universe 22
Paul Celan Universe 14
Anthony Hecht Universe 10
Delmore Schwartz Universe 9
Chuck Berry Universe 7
Maya Angelou Universe 7

~~~

SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL ALL-STAR-BREAK STANDINGS AND STATS!

An Essay on Modern Education-Jonathan Swift-1740 – Advocatetanmoy ...

Swift. The Dublin Laureates are only 2 games out of first in the Glorious Division—thanks to his 12-1 record.

MODERN DIVISION

NEW YORK BUYERS ROCKEFELLER  43 37 –
PHOENIX UNIVERSE SPIELBERG   42 38 (1)
MANHATTAN PRINTERS WARHOL 40 40 (3)
PHILADELPHIA CRASH BARNES 36 44 (7)
ARDEN DREAMERS HARRIMAN 36 44 (7)

WINS

Hans Holbein Printers 5-1
Marcel Duchamp Printers 6-2
Mark Twain Buyers 11-6
Paul Engle Buyers 10-7
Margaret Atwood Dreamers 9-6
John Crowe Ransom Crash 7-5

Relief

Pablo Picasso Crash 9-3
Jean Cocteau Universe 3-0
Czeslaw Milosz Universe 5-2
John Cage Printers 5-2

HOME RUNS

Elizabeth Bishop Buyers 22
Sharon Olds Dreamers 19
Aristophanes Printers 19
John Updike Printers 19
Dylan Thomas Buyers 18
Edna Millay Dreamers 17
Juvenal Universe 15
Bob Dylan Universe 14
Robert Lowell Buyers 14
Louis MacNeice Dreamers 14
Stephen Spender Crash 14
Paul Celan Universe 11
Garcia Lorca Printers 10

The closest race in the league is the dogfight in the Modern Division between Rockefeller’s Buyers (who once led by a wide margin) and Spielberg’s Universe—a game apart, and the Printers are only 2 games away from the Universe. Robert Lowell has been hot at the plate for the Buyers, Bob Dylan for the Universe. Pitching-wise, Mark Twain has been hot again for the Buyers (and leads the division in wins), and Raymond Carver (replacing Randall Jarrell in the rotation) has been hot for the Universe (4-2). MLK Jr is 3-2 in his 8 starts since joining the Universe, and Spielberg has added Jean Cocteau (3-0) to the bullpen, a move he feels will put the Universe over the top. But Andy Warhol’s Printers made moves, too. Hans Holbein the Younger joined the rotation, and is 5-1. Paul Klee is a new lefty starter (3-3). Toulouse Lautrec (3-2) filled in admirably for the injured Duchamp (a toilet fell on his toe). Aristophanes and John Updike have both slammed 19 homers for manager Brian Epstein and his Printers. John Ashbery, who has seven homers from the lead off spot, and is one of the best fielding third basemen in the league, predicted the Printers would win it all. “Why shouldn’t I say that?” he asked. The Crash and the Dreamers, tied for last, are not that far out (seven games) and so every team is truly in the hunt in this division. John Crowe Ransom of the Crash did not win his first game until the end of May, and now at 7-5 he’s among the pitching leaders. John Dewey is 3-0 in July, Wittgenstein and Pater are 2-1 in July. Has the moment arrived for the Crash? Picasso has won 9 games for the Crash in relief. Franz Werfel has replaced the injured John Gould Fletcher in left, and has already begun hitting homers. Stephen Spender leads the Crash in that category. Stevie Smith, playing for the hurt Louis MacNeice, clubbed four homers for the Dreamers, and the home run power of Edna Millay (17) and Sharon Olds (19) has been on display all year for Pamela Harriman’s club. MacNeice himself has 14. The Dreamers have been doing everything they can to fix their bullpen (Germaine Greer has been a huge disappointment) but relief pitching is a tricky affair. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera have joined the team, but all sorts of off-the-field issues have resulted in not much action—a blown save by Kahlo.  Jean Paul Sartre, however, has gone right to work—he’s 2-3 in relief in some very close games. As for the starting rotation, William Godwin pitched well but went 1-4 filling in for Simone de Beauvoir (2-7), losing to Ransom 4-3 on her first start back. Mary Wollstonecraft has joined the Dreamers and is 3-1 in 8 starts. Anais Nin is 8-8. Margaret Atwood has regained her early season form, and is 9-6. Don’t count out the Dreamers!

PEOPLES DIVISION

KOLKATA COBRAS S. RAY 47 33 –
SANTA BARBARA LAWS DICK WOLF 41 39 (6)
BEIJING WAVES MAO 39 41 (8)
TOKYO MIST KUROSAWA 36 44 (11)
LA GAMERS MERV GRIFFIN 35 45 (12)

WINS

Jalal Rumi Cobras 11-3
Rabindranith Tagore Cobras 11-7
Mahatma Gandhi Cobras 10-6
Lao Tzu Waves 10-6
Yukio Mishima Mist 9-6
Yone Naguchi Mist 8-5
Oliver Wendell Holmes Laws 8-6

Relief

Confucius Waves 7-2
Mark Van Doren Laws 4-1
Menander Gamers 6-3

 

HOME RUNS

John Donne Laws 18
Vikram Seth Cobras 18
Li Po Waves 17
Jadoo Akhtar Cobras 16
John Lennon Mist 15
Billy Collins Gamers 15
Hilda Doolittle Mist 15
George Harrison Cobras 14
Eugene Ionesco Gamers 14
Thomas Hardy Laws 14
Karl Marx Waves 13
Tu Fu Waves 13
Sadakitchi Hartmann Mist 11

The Kolkata Cobras have 3 good hitters and 3 good pitchers, and a six game lead in the Peoples Division. Vikram Seth is tied with the division lead in homers with 18, Jadoo Akhtar has 16 round-trippers, and George Harrison, 14 (though Harrison strikes out way too much). We could also mention Allen Ginsberg of the Cobras, batting .301 with 7 homers. The three big starters for the Cobras are Rumi, Tagore, and Gandhi. Kabir Das has improved in the bullpen; the Cobras have been healthy, and don’t plan on any big moves. The Laws, in second place, are also healthy; they added Ferdinand Saussure to their relief corps, but otherwise are staying with the team they’ve had since the beginning, and has arrived at the all star break 2 games over .500: Martial, Donne, and Thomas Hardy with 40 homers in the middle of the lineup, Aristotle, their ace who was hot, but lost 4 straight as they hoped to close in on the Cobras, Bacon, 10-4 since going 0-5 to start the season, Horace 4-2 in the last 5 weeks, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, pitching well, but not getting run support lately, as is the case with Aristotle. Donne is the only one hot at the plate right now. The Waves are 8 back, and slipping a bit lately, as Lao Tzu has been their only consistent pitcher; Confucius made a big splash in the beginning of the year, winning all sorts of late inning games—he’s just 1-0 in the last 5 weeks; Voltaire and Rousseau continue to disappoint. Tu Fu and Karl Marx have cooled off at the plate somewhat. Brecht and Neruda are not hitting. “The whole team has dropped off,” Jack Dorsey, the Waves manager said, “and it’s time we get back in this. We have an amazing team.” The Tokyo Mist got a boost when Yukio Mishima (9-6) replaced Heraclitus, and Yone Naguchi has quietly compiled an 8-5 record, but the two top starters for the Mist, Basho and Issa, have been a study in frustration. Issa gets no run support; Basho’s ERA is too high. Haruki Murakami (2-1) may be the bullpen ace they need, but it’s too early to tell. The Mist would love to have some of relief pitcher Kobe Abe’s (2-7) losses back. The Mist are not really hitting right now. John Lennon and Hilda Doolittle lead the team with 15 homers apiece—but most of those were hit in May. The Mist are a game out of last place—occupied by the LA Gamers. Billy Collins is probably the hottest hitter for the Gamers right now, which isn’t saying much; he has 15 dingers (We can imagine Collins writing a poem on the word ‘dinger’) and Ionesco is right behind him on the team with 14. Collins, the left fielder, and Joe Green, the third baseman, came within an inch of a nasty collision chasing a pop foul down the left field line last week. “We almost lost 20 homers,” manager Bob Hope said. And maybe 20 errors. Collins has been a circus in the field. If a last place team is going to make a run, it will be the Gamers. Merv Griffin’s club has added the following to their pitching staff—Democritus (5-5) is now starting for E.E. Cummings. Charlie Chaplin (2-1) is now starting for Garrison Keillor (1-2), who replaced James Tate (5-5).  Woody Allen (2-2) has replaced Antoine de Saint Exupery (0-1), who replaced Derrida (1-6). Muhammad Ali (2-1) and MC Escher, a lefty relief specialist, have joined the Gamers bullpen, which has been mostly patrolled by Menander (3-2) and Morgenstern (2-2). Charles Bernstein is 0-4. Clive James joined recently, and is 1-1. Gamers fever is still high!

SOCIETY DIVISION

BOSTON SECRETS BEN FRANKLIN 51 29 —
NEW YORK WAR JP MORGAN 42 38 (9)
WESTPORT ACTORS WEINSTEIN 40 40 (11)
FAIRFIELD ANIMALS PT BARNUM 38 42 (13)
VIRGINIA STRANGERS DAVID LYNCH 31 49 (20)

WINS

Alexander Pushkin Secrets 10-1
Amy Lowell Animals 11-2
Plato Secrets 13-5
Walter Scott War 11-5
George Byron Actors 7-4
Moliere Secrets 8-5
Chaucer Actors 8-5
Erich Remarque War 10-7
Alexander Pope Strangers 8-7
Gaius Petronius Actors 8-7

Relief

Thomas Jefferson Secrets 4-1
HP Lovecraft Strangers 4-2
Sade Actors 6-4

Home Runs

Emily Dickinson Secrets 19
Thomas Nashe Actors 18
Theodore Roethke Strangers 18
Stephen Crane War 16
Hafiz Actors 14
Arthur Rimbaud Strangers 14
Robert Frost Secrets 14
Harry Crosby War 13
Francois Rabelais Strangers 11
Wallace Stevens Animals 11
Woody Guthrie Secrets 11
Seamus Heaney Animals 10
Amiri Baraka Actors 10

Ben Franklin’s Secrets own the best record in the league (51-29) and have the biggest division lead (9 games). Pushkin and Plato have nearly half the Secrets wins, while Moliere, their fourth starter, has a nifty 8-5 mark, as Poe, their ace continues to struggle (6-7)—but most of it is due to low run support. Poe threw his first shutout right before the all star break. The Secrets’ Emily Dickinson leads the Society Division with 19 homers; Frost has 14, Woody Guthrie 11, and Kanye West leads the team in homers over the last couple of weeks; he now has 7, as does Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Secrets lead off hitter (.299, 9 stolen bases, 6 triples). With a solid, Founding Father, bullpen, the Secrets have no real weaknesses, and Boston has got to feel happy about the way things are going—although manager George Washington never looks happy. The second place War are 4 games over .500, have been getting good starts from Walter Scott and Erich Remarque, and manager Machiavelli is hoping Shakespeare (7-7) will come back stronger after his rehab (newly signed Julius Caesar is 2-2 with a shutout in his absence). The War’s Stephen Crane leads JP Morgan’s club with 16 homers, and Harry Crosby has been a surprise with 13. Jack London is new in the Wars bullpen, which has been shaky. The two Connecticut teams, Harvey Weinstein’s Actors (Byron and Chaucer their best pitchers, Nashe and Hafiz their best hitters) and PT Barnum’s Animals (Amy Lowell 11-2 the only star so far; they’ve added AA Milne in the bullpen) have some catching up to do, eleven and thirteen games back, respectively. Norman Mailer (3-3) is a new pitcher for the Actors.  Finally, the Strangers. They are 20 games out. David Lynch and manager Bram Stoker made a big move and got Franz Kafka. He’s 0-2 in relief and 0-6 as a starter. Salvador Dali is new, and he’s 1-2, stepping in for Becket (3-8). The Strangers ace, Alexander Pope, is either brilliant or so-so; he has 4 shutouts, but he’s 8-7. Theodore Roethke has cracked 18 homers for the Strangers (Rimbaud has 14, Rabelais has 11) but the team strikes out too much and hits into too many double plays. Twenty games out in this division may be too big a climb for David Lynch’s Strangers. Manager Bram Stoker merely stared at us coldly when we mentioned this.

GLORIOUS DIVISION

FLORENCE BANNERS DE MEDICI 46 34 —
DUBLIN LAUREATES NAHUM TATE 44 36 (2)
LONDON CARRIAGES QUEEN VICTORIA 43 37 (3)
BERLIN PISTOLS EVA BRAUN 34 46 (12)
DEVON SUN JOHN RUSSELL 34 46 (12)

WINS

Jonathan Swift Laureates 12-1
John Ruskin Sun 6-1
Andrew Marvell Carriages 12-3
Virgil Banners 10-4
Percy Shelley Banners 11-5
William James Pistols 9-5
Leonardo da Vinci Banners 8-4
Virginia Woolf Carriages 9-8

Relief

Livy Laureates 9-3
Bertrand Russell Sun 6-3
Richard Wagner Pistols 5-3

HOME RUNS

William Yeats Pistols 25
Friedrich Schiller Banners 18
Charles Dickens Laureates 18
Henry Longfellow Carriages 17
William Wordsworth Sun 17
Aphra Behn Laureates 17
James Joyce Pistols 15
Ted Hughes Pistols 14
Alexandre Dumas Laureates 13
Robert Browning Carriages 13
Arthur Tennyson Carriages 11
DG Rossetti Banners 11
HG Wells Sun 10
Matthew Arnold Sun 10
GB Shaw Carriages 10

Right now the Glorious Division is a 3 team race—the Banners, led by the bat of Friedrich Schiller (Keats is finally starting to hit a little) and a great starting rotation, led by Virgil and Shelley, are in first. But right behind the Banners are the Laureates, who now have Pascal (3-1) and Robert Louis Stevenson (4-1) in their starting rotation to go with Jonathan Swift (12-1), and they’ve picked up JD Salinger and Hans Christian Anderson in relief, just in case they need them. Charles Dickens, Aphra Behn, and Alexandre Dumas are smashing homers for Nahum Tate’s Dublin club, who were playing quite well even before they made these changes. Watch out for the Laureates. Some see them as a populist joke. Especially since they’ve added Pascal, and with the way Swift is pitching, they are not. The Carriages are in third, and in the thick of it, too. Paul McCartney has smashed 9 homers from the lead off spot (and is batting .340), George Bernard Shaw has clubbed 10 off the bench, and then you have Tennyson, Browning, and Longfellow belting out 41 between them in the middle of the order. Andrew Marvell (12-3) is London’s towering ace, but after that, including the bullpen, the pitching is thin. To remedy a weak bullpen, they just added Descartes. In limited use, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Lamb haven’t been too bad in relief. Virginia Woolf (9-8) has tossed a lot of innings as their no. 2 starter. If the Carriages keep hitting (and they do win on the road) they can take this thing. The Devon Sun and Berlin Pistols, tied for last at 34 and 46, and 12 games out of first, have pretty good bullpens (Bertrand Russell anchors the Sun pen, Richard Wagner, the Pistol’s) they can hit the ball out of the park (Yeats, Joyce, and Ted Hughes for the Pistols, Wordsworth, HG Wells and Matthew Arnold for the Sun) but starting pitching is their doom. The Pistols’ T.S Eliot lost his first five starts and has battled back to 9-9. The Pistols’ Ezra Pound began the year at 1-3, including losses of 27-3, 24-7, and 22-14. Pound was replaced by Hemingway (0-2) and then Horace Greeley (3-6). Maybe they will try Pound, again. The moody William James is the Pistols best starter. He’s 9-5.  After Santayana won 3 in a row in May, he can’t win. The Sun’s woes are similar. Emerson is 6-10. John Stuart Mill (4-6)—spelled by Ruskin, the Sun’s best pitcher so far—Aldous Huxley (6-8), and Thomas Carlyle (5-10) have been no better than Emerson. Ruskin, who helps Thoreau and Russell in the bullpen, has 4 shutouts (his phenomenal run when he briefly replaced Mill); the rest of the staff has one (Emerson). Maybe it’s time to put Ruskin back in the starting rotation. “I will pitch where the manager [Winston Churchill] wants me to pitch,” said Ruskin. Churchill, and the Sun’s owner, John Russell, likes Emerson, Mill, Huxley, and Carlyle. So we’ll see.

 

EMPEROR DIVISION

Rome Ceilings Pope Julius II  44 36 —
Paris Goths Charles X  41 39 (3)
Corsica Codes Napoleon Bonaparte 41 39 (3)
Madrid Crusaders Philip II 40 40 (4)
Rimini Broadcasters Fellini 38 42 (6)

WINS

Francisco Goya Goths 7-2
Ludovico Ariosto Ceilings 9-4
George Orwell Broadcasters 7-3
Homer Codes 10-5
GWF Hegel Codes 9-5
George Friderik Handel Crusaders 8-4
Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand Goths 10-6
Samuel Taylor Coleridge Broadcasters 6-4
John Milton Ceilings 8-7
Oscar Wilde Goths 7-6
Wolfgang Goethe Goths 7-6

Relief

Maurice Ravel Broadcasters 4-0
JS Bach Ceilings 9-5

HOME RUNS

WH Auden Codes 20
Anne Bradstreet Crusaders 19
Sophocles Goths 19
Heinrich Heine Goths 18
Victor Hugo Codes 18
Aeschylus Crusaders 16
Euripides Ceilings 14
Mary Angela Douglas Crusaders 13
Rainer Maria Rilke Broadcasters 12
Robert Burns Broadcasters 12
Jean Rancine Codes 12
Edmund Spenser Ceilings 11
Torquato Tasso Goths 10
Anne Sexton Broadcasters 10

The Ceilings still lead the Emperor Division, with a 3 game lead over the recently surging Goths—tied for last not long ago. The Ceilings once invincible starting pitching has faltered, and they look human and beatable. Milton went 7 straight trips to the mound without a win; Dryden got hurt and has only won once since early June; Augustine is win-less in his last nine starts; Ariosto, however, continues to pitch well, Bach is still a miracle in the bullpen, and Euripides and Blake are hitting and scoring runs. Goya came out of the pen where he was 3-0 and has won 4 as a starter for the Goths, replacing Baudelaire (2-9) in the rotation.  Thomas de Quincey is a recent bullpen acquisition. Tasso, playing for the hurt Ronsard, has 10 homers, adding to the melancholy duo of Sophocles (19) and Heine (18) for the Goths. W.H. Auden has smashed a division-leading 20 for Napoleon’s Codes, 41-39—like the Goths, and Homer (10-5) and Hegel (9-5) have emerged as their lethal starting duo. In a tight division race, Madrid’s Crusaders (4 games out) and the Remini Broadcasters (6 games behind) are in striking distance. The Crusaders, a .500 team for a while now, are being lifted by music: Handel (8-4) leads the team in wins; Mozart (3-2) and Beethoven (4-1) who joined the team in June, hope to eventually push them over the top. Joan of Arc is the new lefty in the bullpen. The Crusaders have plenty of pop with Anne Bradstreet (19 homers), Aeschylus (16 homers) and Mary Angela Douglas (13 homers)—the contemporary poet who won a starting job off the bench—replacing an injured Saint Ephrem at shortstop—when she starting hitting homers. The Broadcasters are Fellini’s team, and this currently last-place team is difficult to define: Rilke and Burns lead them in homers, Mick Jagger leads them in stolen bases, Jim Morrison leads them in doubles, Anne Sexton leads them in batting average, George Orwell, who is both starter and reliever, leads them in wins, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is their best starting pitcher right now, and Maurice Ravel is slowly becoming a star in the bullpen. “The musicians are beginning to change Scarriet Poetry Baseball,” Ravel said. “A memorable phrase of music is just a good as an epigram.”

 

 

SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL—HERE WE GO!

Lord Byron In Albanian Dress - 1813 Painting by War Is Hell Store

George Byron in a pensive mood, before taking part in the opening day Scarriet baseball ceremonies.

Happy Easter!

Scarriet has expanded and restructured its baseball league!!

Gone the 2 leagues of 20 teams led by 20 American poets—Eliot, Pound, Frost, Poe, Williams, Stevens, Moore, Dickinson, Millay, Jorie Graham, Ginsberg, Ransom, Cummings, Whittier, Whitman, Bryant, Longfellow, James Lowell, Ashbery, and Emerson.

Now poets like Emerson, Eliot and Poe can be player/managers—to contribute to their teams both at the plate and in the field.

The field is more international—Scarriet Poetry Baseball is now 25 historical teams from all over the world.

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The gods and muses must be pleased with our ten years of Poetry March Madness and our first Poetry Baseball season, where poetry is worshiped through time and space in a manner which no one has ever seen.

Fortunately one of the Muses has always been here to help us, Marla Muse.

Marla Muse: They are indeed pleased, Tom!

You have spoken to the other muses who live in other realms, in those shadowy timeless realms where time is one and poetry lights up suns distantly—

Marla Muse: Yes, and they approve! The stars in the heavens love you more than you know… I would rather die than see poetry die.

This baseball season is different. Mysterious and wealthy owners throughout time and space are bidding, some in secret, for players to fill their rosters.

In the Great Emperor League, we have the Broadcasters. Their motto is “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name” and they feature Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Gregory Corso, Anne Sexton, Bobby Burns, Omar Khayyam, Rilke, Coleridge, Leopardi, Anacreon, Sappho, and Ingrid Jonker.  They are rumored to be owned and funded by a business group led by Federico Fellini, and their ballpark is in Rimini, Italy.

These ballclubs are timeless, in every sense of the word (these teams compete, with actual statistics, where chance unfolds out of space, out of time) but real money, blood money, purchases these players.  We know JP Morgan, for instance, wanted Shakespeare and bid heavily to get him.

The Pistols, who play in Berlin, are said to be associated with Eva Braun, but this cannot be confirmed; one older muse claims to have overheard Eva say, “I take care of this. Adolf is too busy talking to bankers and architects. He doesn’t have time for poetry.” But honestly we cannot say who owns the Pistols.

Nahum Tate, owner of the Laureates, for those who do not know, re-wrote a popular King Lear with a happy ending (after Shakespeare’s death when, for a long period, the Bard was out of fashion,) and was chosen as Poet Laureate of England in 1692. 

Dick Wolf produces Law & Order on television, and appears to have a controlling interest in the Laws, playing out of Santa Barbara.  He’s got Aristotle, Lord Bacon, and Horace.

John Rockefeller opened his purse to get Walt Whitman, and he thinks that will be enough to win a championship.  We don’t know.  We do know baseball is all about pitching.  All you need is a few good arms which dominate, defense behind them, and some clubhouse chemistry, and not too many injuries. It’s a crap shoot, in many ways, and this is why Rockefeller grumbled he wasn’t going to waste money on superstars who hit home runs and have a high batting average. He’s probably right.  A team that wins 2-1 is better than a team that wins 7-4, by pure mathematics, even though the former score wins by 1 and the latter by 3 runs. It’s the ratio that counts.  2-1 = 2. 7-4 = 1.7  This simple reason is why defense wins in every sport. Rockefeller is using this formula, and the oil baron was also advised that you can’t buy a pennant—throwing money at sluggers doesn’t do any good; it’s 90% pitching and luck. Just put a a poet with critical depth on the hill and three good versifiers in the infield and sit back.

Some of the rosters might have some question marks, but that’s what happens in a free market.  It’s an historical fact that Longfellow did meet Queen Victoria in person. But no one expected him to play for her!

And W.H. Auden just “wanted to play for Napoleon, I don’t why.”

Marla Muse: I can’t wait for the season to begin!  Spring is in the air! Around Rome, and in those still fairer isles… Let’s forget about plagues and the starvation for awhile. Songs are going to sing.

Here then, are the Teams, their Mottoes, and the preliminary rosters—they are always changing (there’s a big minor leagues!)

~~~~~~

THE GREAT EMPEROR LEAGUE

Federico Fellini, Rimini  The Broadcasters [Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name]
-Mick Jagger, Sappho, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski, Paul Valery, Anne Sexton, Omar Khayyam, Robert Burns, Ben Jonson, Coleridge, Jim Morrison, Edmund Waller, Nabokov, Rilke, Giacomo Leopardi, Anacreon, Ingrid Jonker, Swinburne

Napoleon, Corsica The Codes [Let the more loving one be me]
-W.H. Auden, Homer, Hesiod, Racine, John Peale Bishop, Edmund Wilson, Mina Loy, William Logan, Irving Layton, Villon, Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard, Wole Soyinka, Jules Laforgue, Derek Walcott, Callimachus, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius

King Philip II, Madrid The Crusaders [If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me]
-Saint Ephrem, G.K. Chesterton, Tolkien, Thomas Aquinas, Hilaire Beloc, John Paul II, Saint Theresa of Lisieux, Joyce Kilmer, Saint John of the Cross, Mary Angela Douglas, Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Aeschulus

Charles X, Paris  The Goths [Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith]
-A.W. Schlegel, Baudelaire, Goethe, Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, Madame de Stael, Chateaubriand, Sophocles, George Herbert, Heinrich Heine, Robert Herrick, Clement Marot, Ronsard, Saint-Beuve, Catulus, Thomas Gray, John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Theophile Gautier

Pope Julius II, Rome  The Ceilings [They also serve who only stand and wait]
-Milton, Michelangelo, William Blake, Robert Lowell, Petrarch, G.E. Lessing, John Dryden, Klopstock, GE Horne, Ferdowsi, Ariosto, Luis de Camoens, Swift, Tulsidas, Edmund Spenser, Kwesi Brew, Pindar, Euripides

~~~~~

THE GLORIOUS LEAGUE

Eva Braun, Berlin The Pistols [A life subdued to its instrument]
-Ted Hughes, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis, DH Lawrence, Alistair Crowley, George Santayana, F.T. Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Richard Wagner, Jung

Queen Victoria, London The Carriages [Theirs but to do and die]
-Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett, Robert Browning, Longfellow, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Hazlitt, Paul McCartney, Geoffrey Hill, Henry James, Andrew Marvel, John Suckling, Virginia Woolf, Theocritus

Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence The Banners [The One remains, the many change and pass]
-Percy Shelley, Dante, William Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, DG Rossetti, John Keats, Marlowe, Guido Cavalcanti, Glyn Maxwell, Ben Mazer, Friedrich Schiller, Thomas Moore, Philodemus, Virgil, Stefan George, Boccaccio, Leonardo da Vinci

P.M. Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Devon The Sun [A good indignation brings out all one’s powers]
-Emerson, Horace Walpole, Thomas Carlyle, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley, Matthew Arnold, Sir John Davies, Margaret Fuller, Robert Southey, Marilyn Chin, Joy Harjo, Basil Bunting, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Nahum Tate, Dublin  The Laureates [Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands]
-Ghalib, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Peacock, Leigh Hunt, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Sara Teasdale, Pasternak, Louis Simpson, Dana Gioia, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Aphra Behn, Rod McKuen, JK Rowling

~~~~~

THE SECRET SOCIETY LEAGUE

Harvey Weinstein, Westport CT The Actors [I am no hackney for your rod]
-John Skelton, Langston Hughes, Henry Ward Beecher, Chaucer, Amiri Baraka, Lord Byron, Hafiz, Thomas Nashe, Marilyn Hacker, Petronius, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jim Carroll, Lucille Clifton, Etheridge Knight, Audre Lorde, Jimmy Page, Andre Gide

David Lynch, Alexandria VA  The Strangers [So still is day, it seems like night profound]
-Jones Very, Alexander Pope, William Burroughs, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Robert Graves, Laura Riding, Weldon Kees, Berryman, Mary Shelley, Rabelais, Charles Simic, Eric Satie, Labid, Roethke, Camille Paglia, HP Lovecraft, Nietzsche, Samuel Beckett

P.T. Barnum, Fairfield CT  The Animals [Majesty and love are incompatible]
-Ovid, Gerald Stern, Robinson Jeffers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Seamus Heaney, Jack Spicer, Kay Ryan, Leslie Scalapino, Mary Oliver, W S Merwin, Melville, Camille Saint Saens, Edward Lear, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gerard de Nerval, Robert Bly

J.P. Morgan, Madison Avenue  The War [The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them]
-Shakespeare, Louis Untermeyer, Apollinaire, T.E. Hulme, Richard Aldington, Rupert Brooke, Sir Walter Scott, Philip Sidney, James Dickey, Harry Crosby, Keith Douglas, Wilfred Owen, Howard Nemerov, Stephen Crane, Erich Remarque, Alan Seeger

Ben Franklin  Philadelphia  The Secrets [We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune]
-Paul Simon, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edgar Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, F. Scott Key, Cole Porter, Plato, Hawthorne, Pushkin, Walter Raleigh, Moliere, William Cullen Bryant, Amy Lowell, Emma Lazarus, Carl Sandburg, Pete Seeger, Natasha Trethewey, Amelia Welby, Woody Guthrie, JD Salinger, John Prine, Kanye West, Stephen Cole, Bob Tonucci

~~~~~

THE PEOPLE’S LEAGUE

Sajyajit Ray, Calcutta The Cobras [Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me?]
-Tagore, Allen Ginsberg, Jeet Thayil, Rupi Kaur, Anand Thakore, Dhoomil, G.M. Muktibodh, Rumi, A.K. Ramanujan, Samar Sen, Daipayan Nair, R. Meenakshi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Hermann Hesse, Persius, George Harrison, Adil Jussawalla, Tishani Doshi, Sushmita Gupta, Vikram Seth

Kurosawa,  Tokyo  The Mist [In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto]
-Basho, Hilda Doolittle, Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, D.T. Suzuki, Yone Noguchi, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Kobayashi Issa, Lady Izumi Shikibu, Cid Corman, Sadakichi Hartmann, Heraclitus, Richard Brautigan

Chairman Mao, Beijing  The Waves [Death gives separation repose. Without death, grief only sharpens]
-Tu Fu, Lucretius, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Rousseau, Guy Burgess, Amiri Baraka, Brecht, Neruda, Li Po, Li He, Bai Juyi, Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Ho Chi-Fang, Yen Chen, Billie Holiday, Khomieni, Lu Ji , Wang Wei, Lao Tzu, Gary B. Fitzgerald, Wendell Berry

Dick Wolf, Santa Barbara  The Laws [In poetry everything is clear and definite]
-Ajip Rosidi, Aristotle, John Donne, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Donald Justice, Anna Akhmatova, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Campion, Frederick Seidel, Antonio Machado, Mark Van Doren, David Lehman, Lord Bacon, Martial, ML Rosenthal, Horace, Gottfried Burger, Yvor Winters

Merv Griffin, Los Angeles  The Gamers  [He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife]
-Lewis Carroll, James Tate, E.E. Cummings, Tony Hoagland, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins, Eugene Field, W.S. Gilbert, Thomas Hood, Noel Coward, X.J. Kennedy, John Betjeman, Wendy Cope, Tristan Tzara, Heather McHugh, Charles Bernstein, Jack Spicer, James Whitcomb Riley, Joe Green, Menander, Morgenstern

~~~~~

THE MODERN LEAGUE

Pamela Harriman, Arden NY The Dreamers [not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me]
-Sharon Olds, Edna Millay, George Dillon, Floyd Dell, Dorothy Parker, Stanley Burnshaw, Richard Lovelace, Stevie Smith, Louis MacNeice, Louise Bogan, Louise Gluck, Jack Gilbert, Marge Piercy, Carolyn Forche, Muriel Rukeyser, Jean Valentine, May Swenson, Propertius, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir

Andy Warhol, East 47th St The Printers [the eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up.]
-John Updike, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, James Merrill, Hart Crane, Lorca, Thom Gunn, Stephen Burt, Frank Bidart, Mark Rothko, Marjorie Perloff, John Quinn, Duchamp, Aristophanes, Christopher Isherwood, Andre Breton, Lou Reed, John Cage

John D. Rockefeller, Chicago The Buyers [Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?]
-Walt Whitman, Alcaeus, Edgar Lee Masters, Kenneth Rexroth, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Helen Vendler, Jorie Graham, Franz Wright, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Paul Engle, William Alexander Percy, Richard Hugo, Carl Philips, Harriet Monroe, Duke Ellington, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Sigmund Freud

A. C. Barnes, Philadelphia  The Crash [But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us]
-Allen Tate, John Gould Fletcher, John Crowe Ransom, John Dewey, Cleanth Brooks, Donald Davidson, Merrill Moore, Walter Pater, Wittgenstein, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Archilochus, Anne Waldman, Stanley Kunitz, Jackson Pollock, WC Williams, Luigi Russolo, Stephen Spender, Richard Howard

Steven Spielberg, Phoenix AZ  The Universe [I know why the caged bird sings]
-Maya Angelou, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bob Dylan, Margaret Atwood, Paul Celan, Czeslaw Milosz, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, Anthony Hecht, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Larry Levis, Claudia Rankine, Harold Bloom, Alice Walker, James Wright, Juvenal, Chuck Berry, Stephen King

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Ballpark Road Trips in Review: 2018 - Ben's Biz Blog

 

 

FROST AND BUKOWSKI: POETRY ROUND ONE

Image result for BUKOWSKI

Charles Bukowski goes up against Robert Frost in this final Round One Poetry Bracket contest.

These are 20th century poets, so don’t expect beautiful poetry.

Bukowski is essentially the child (whoring and drinking whiskey) who utters homely truths which the educated are forced to admit are true.

There’s nothing worse than too late

And there you go.  Who can deny this?  Isn’t he right?

Robert Frost, like Emerson, Melville, and Whitman, first found fame in Great Britain, which, until World War Two, was the World’s English Professor for those seeking literary fame.

The American poet Amy Lowell was visiting London at the same time, fighting with Ezra Pound and his buddy, Ford Maddox Ford—who wanted Amy’s America to join the bloodbath against “the Huns” in the approaching Great War, and Amy would have none of it. Frost, who had a curmudgeon loner streak, kept away from this fight.

Frost’s first two volumes of verse were published in London in 1913 and 1914, just as England was crying for war and it was getting underway.

Then while the genocide was occurring, in 1915, Frost slipped back to America, at the age of 40.  Frost won the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes in 1924, and began teaching at Bread Loaf in 1921, helping to pioneer America’s dubious yet successful Writing Program industry.

Bukowski was born in Germany in 1920—to a German-American sergeant in the American army occupying a defeated Germany after WW I.

Growing up in Los Angeles, a socially withdrawn Bukowski was ridiculed as a boy for his German accent, and frequently beaten by his unemployed father.

Frost goes against Bukowski with his famous

Two roads diverged in a wood and I—took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” was inspired by Edward Thomas, a English poet and walking companion when Frost lived in England; Frost thought Thomas was too fussy about what road they took on their rambles around the English countryside.  Thomas died in the slaughter of World War I.

The wars of the 20th century throw long shadows over all, even these two poets, Bukowski and Frost, who were not soldiers themselves.

The kid who was ridiculed as a kid for his German accent wins.

 

YES! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Stephen Burt —Stephanie goes to Harvard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27. Amy KingHates mansplaining. 

28. Sharon Olds —Best living female poet?

29. Louise Gluck —Her stock is quietly rising.

30. Jorie Graham —Her Collected has landed.

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

32. Garrison Keillor —Is he retiring?

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

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

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

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

37. Lyn Hejinian —The best Language Poet?

38. Dan ChiassonNew Yorker house critic.

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

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

41. Harold Bloom —The canonizer.

42. Dana Gioia —The best of New Formalism.

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

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

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

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

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

48. Terrence Hayes —Already a BAP editor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60. Paul Muldoon New Yorker Nights

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

62. Derek Walcott —Our time’s Homer?

63. Janet Holmes —Program Era exemplar.

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

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

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

67. Nikki Finney —NAACP Image Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

81. Robert PolitoPoetry man.

82. David Ferry —Classical poetry translator.

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

84. Al Filreis  —Co-founder of PennSound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

93. Jennifer Knox —Colloquial and brash.

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

95. Yusef Komunyakaa —Known for his Vietnam poems.

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

97. Thomas Sayer Ellis —Poet and photographer.

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

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

100. Forrest Gander —The Trace is his latest.

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET 2015 MARCH MADNESS—THE GREATEST LINES IN POETRY COMPETE

BRACKET ONE

1. Come live with me, and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove That hills and valleys, dales and field, And all the craggy mountains yield. (Marlowe)

2. Every Night and every Morn Some to Misery are born. Every Morn and every Night Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.  (Blake)

3. Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine; And I was desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. (Dowson)

4. April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. (Eliot)

5. No motion has she now, no force; She neither hears nor sees; Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks, and stones and trees. (Wordsworth)

6. If the red slayer think he slays, Or if the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again. (Emerson)

7. The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. (Arnold)

8. When I am dead and over me bright April Shakes out her rain-drenched hair, Though you should lean above me broken-hearted, I shall not care. (Teasdale)

9. The soul selects her own society, Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. (Dickinson)

10. We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile. (Dunbar)

11. This is the waking landscape Dream after dream walking away through it Invisible invisible invisible (Merwin)

12. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look And a love of the rack and the screw, And I said I do, I do. (Plath)

13. It is easy to be young. (Everybody is, at first.) It is not easy to be old. It takes time. Youth is given; age is achieved. (May Swenson)

14. There is no disorder but the heart’s. But if love goes leaking outward, if shrubs take up its monstrous stalking, all greenery is spurred, the snapping lips are overgrown, and over oaks red hearts hang like the sun. (Mona Von Duyn)

15. Long life our two resemblances devise, And for a thousand years when we have gone Posterity will find my woe, your beauty Matched, and know my loving you was wise. (Michelangelo)

16. Caesar’s double-bed is warm As an unimportant clerk Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK On a pink official form. (Auden)

BRACKET TWO

1. Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds Or bends with the remover to remove. (Shakespeare)

2. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. (Coleridge)

3. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. (Barrett)

4. Say to the Court, it glows And shines like rotten wood; Say to the Church, it shows What’s good, and doth no good: If Church and Court reply, Then give them both the lie. (Raleigh)

5. Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicaean barks of yore, That gently o’er a perfumed sea, The weary, wayworn wanderer bore To his own native shore. (Poe)

6. Some for the Glories of This World; and some Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come; Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go, Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum! (Omar Khayyam)

7. Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade. (Marvell)

8. The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. (Gray)

9. O hark, O hear! how thin and clear, And thinner, clearer, farther going! O, sweet and far from cliff and scar The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying, Blow bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. (Tennyson)

10. I have a rendezvous with Death, At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air. (Seeger)

11. I have put my days and dreams out of mind, Days that are over, dreams that are done. Though we seek life through, we shall surely find There is none of them clear to us now, not one. (Swinburne)

12. When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. (Whitman)

13. O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. (Keats)

14. Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. (Frost)

15. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. (Stevens)

16. I was, being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset; I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get. (Wylie)

BRACKET THREE

1. The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way. (Milton)

2. Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon. (Byron)

3. I arise from dreams of thee In the first sweet sleep of night, When the winds are breathing low, And the stars are shining bright. (Shelley)

4. What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. (Owen)

5. We have heard the music, tasted the drinks, and looked at colored houses. What more is there to do, except to stay? And that we cannot do. And as a last breeze freshens the top of the weathered old tower, I turn my gaze Back to the instruction manual which has made me dream of Guadalajara. (Ashbery)

6. Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives. Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives. (Sassoon)

7. Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose. (Parker)

8. The shopgirls leave their work quietly. Machines are still, tables and chairs darken. The silent rounds of mice and roaches begin. (Reznikoff)

9. It’s not my business to describe anything. The only report is the discharge of words called to account for their slurs. A seance of sorts—or transport into that nether that refuses measure. (Bernstein)

10. I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed. (Rich)

11. When I see a couple of kids And guess he’s fucking her and she’s Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, I know this is paradise Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives (Larkin)

12. I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. (Millay)

13. Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks in a net, under water in Charlestown harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you? (Harper)

14. It’s good to be neuter. I want to have meaningless legs. There are things unbearable. One can evade them a long time. Then you die. (Carson).

15. On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself. (Graham)

16. The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. (Lockwood)

BRACKET FOUR

1. Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy. (Homer)

2. And following its path, we took no care To rest, but climbed, he first, then I—so far, through a round aperture I saw appear Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears, Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars. (Dante)

3. With usura, sin against nature, is thy bread ever more of stale rags is thy bread dry as paper, with no mountain wheat, no strong flour with usura the line grows thick with usura is no clear demarcation and no man can find site for his dwelling. Stonecutter is kept from his stone weaver is kept from his loom WITH USURA (Pound)

4. I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin. Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first person singular followed by that stalwart indicative of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g of “becoming.” Of course, the name had been changed somewhere between Angel Island and the sea. (Chin)

5.  Dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. (Sexton)

6. I loved you; and the hopelessness I knew, The jealousy, the shyness—though in vain—Made up a love so tender and so true As God may grant you to be loved again. (Pushkin)

7. We cannot know his legendary head And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze is turned down low, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. (Rilke)

8. So much depends on the red wheel barrow glazed with rain water besides the white chickens. (Williams)

9. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. (Ginsberg)

10. The Walrus and the Carpenter Walked on a mile or so, And then they rested on a rock Conveniently low: And all the little Oysters stood And waited in a row. (Carroll)

11. What dire offense from amorous causes springs, What mighty contests rise from trivial things; Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, If she inspire, and he approve my lays. (Pope)

12. Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere. And Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Jane. Or would you say that I have gone insane? What would you do, then, to even the score? (Mazer)

13. Come, read to me a poem, Some simple and heartfelt lay, That shall soothe this restless feeling, And banish the thoughts of day. (Longfellow)

14. So Penelope took the hand of Odysseus, not to hold him back but to impress this peace on his memory: from this point on, the silence through which you move is my voice pursuing you. (Gluck)

15. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so: From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow. (Donne)

16. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And vaster, Some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. (Bishop)

17. Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail; And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, It is so frail. (Ransom)

THE WORK OF HUNTERS IS ANOTHER THING

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

“To please the yelping dogs” ends a thought, begins an iambic pentameter line, but doesn’t finish that line, as the poet’s argument resumes in the middle: “the gaps, I mean.”

In Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall;” the poet describes the gaps in the wall which occur, strangely, because of freezing (“frozen ground-swell”) —what is ‘frozen’ moves.

The lines, as a whole, in Frost’s poem, move languidly, argumentatively, conversationally, (“The gaps, I mean”)—in case you didn’t get it, this is what I mean; the poem, flying in the face of the canon, dares to be informal, informality as slack as a poem may get: obscurity is too slack.

“I mean” is the opposite of obscurity, the poet not ashamed to add words to make himself understood better. But in pentameter!

Charm, even of the most insouciant kind, like everything else, requires context, and the canon nicely provides it. That’s what the Tradition is for: to make things more interesting as we play handball against it, not to glumly tower above us.

Pure difficulty, pure obscurity, is never charming.

I pray, before I go to bed each night, that contemporary poets understand this.

And so here is the great crossroads of Modern Poetry in this great Frost poem of the early 20th century; two types of slackness, two roads:

The informal, which bends a few rules.

And the obscure, which breaks them all.

One leads to pleasant informality, to modern charm; the other to stupid oblivion, to slack shit.

“To please the yelping dogs” is a phrase that stays in our memory and we think for a simple and mysterious reason: to us it represents that sensual, animal life which pleases those who don’t care for poetry. “Yelping dogs” perfectly describes a life without refinement, without soul, without philosophy, without poetry. Frost uses the phrase in his poem to indicate what he does not mean.

Most people are satisfied with the “yelping dog” life, and that is all they need. Everyone needs some “yelping dog” life, but those who enjoy nothing else should not stray anywhere near poetry; they will hate its simplicity, and they will spoil it. For “yelping dog” may apply to poetry, as it may apply to everything else: an eager, noisy, social, chaotic, spirited, life can, and will, invade everything, even the so-called fine arts; it can overrun them; few are able to resist the “yelping dog” life, which is why genius and truly great art is rare. How, for instance, did the wonderful poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay get trampled? Why is “yelping” poetry, rather than beautiful poetry, critically embraced today?

Dana Gioia, reviewing Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems, wrote: “Keillor’s tone is obviously designed to rile anyone who holds the conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath (and the conventionally low one of Millay).”

Think on it! The “conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath and the conventionally low one of Millay.”

This critical ranking is true, and it happened in a few years—Millay tumbled from her perch in the 1930s.

Except for “Daddy,”—the rhyme-song of wife-anguish which emerged from Plath as she suicidally removed herself from the world of John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, the magazine of proper Modernism (be as dull and obscure as you possibly can)—the poems of Plath and Moore do not amount to very much, while Millay’s poems rock the house down (What Lips My Lips Have Kissed and Where and Why; Dirge Without Music; And You As Well Must Die, Beloved Dust; I Being Born A Woman and Distressed; If I Should Learn In Some Quite Casual Way); Moore and Plath present difficulty for its own sake.

Reading Marianne Moore’s poetry (“all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction however…”) is like peering without understanding at the complexity of a car’s engine; reading Millay’s verse is like driving that car.

So how did this happen? How did Moore and Plath gain ascendance over Millay? It had to take a lot of “yelping dog” distraction. Moore belonged to the well-connected Dial clique of Pound, Williams, Cummings, and Eliot; Plath panted after their ascendency; Millay was rudely pushed aside by that same clique, Hugh “The Pound Era” Kenner, and a few others, providing the critical hammer blows to Millay’s reputation. The point is, it only took one well-connected clique to take Millay down, because the majority of her countrymen only cared for the “yelping dog” life. The poetry garden really has but a few gardeners (critics who set the tone).

Millay is like a supersonic jet plane—it has the potential to take a lot of people on wonderful rides, but not if it is grounded. The battle for poetry will always take place among the few, because the “yelping dogs” are so distracting, and make sure that it is only the few that care enough and focus enough on poetry to truly decide poetry’s fate. Most are simply not refined enough to fight this fight. But the fight must be fought, since poetry is a door to that which truly refines the soul.

How is the soul refined? By love, of course.

And what does poetry have to do with love?

Nothing.

Which is precisely why it takes a remarkable soul to effect the marriage; most do not see the marriage as necessary; they are like those who take for granted that light and heat permeate glass—never thinking what this common phenomenon means.

The holy marriage of poetry and love, with Beauty the priest who joins them, is a radiant truth that civilizes humanity, but tumbles into obscurity and critical censure with barely a sigh, for love is socially embarrassing, and poetry, embarrassing as well, especially in the world of the yelping dog.

Only a superhuman effort can make such a marriage accepted; the poet has to court the world, not merely describe it, and this effort makes or breaks the would-be poet. Millay wrote of love, Moore, bric-a-brac. In the fashion of the hour, bric-a-brac, while the dogs yelp, is enough for the professors’ seduction, and in the Program era, ushered in by Ransom and Moore’s Dial clique, the bric-a-brac poetry professor became all-important.

One can still see contemporary poetry critics making half-hearted, half-conscious, desultory gestures in love’s direction: for instance, see Dan Chiasson’s recent review in the New Yorker of the latest book of poems by Alaska poet Olena Kalytiak Davis, which thrills to the 51 year old poet’s “sexual power” and “romance,” going so far as to say, “authentic pining in poetry, though hard to come by, is probably necessary for any poet who wishes to become a classic.”

Here is Chiasson kind of getting it, but don’t hold your breath for a Millay revival happening any time soon.  (A few poets today following Millay confuse the vulgarity for the art.)

So many are seduced by the Marianne Moore bric-a-brac school, not because they love bric-a-brac, necessarily, but because they think ‘crunchy poetry’ will leave behind the embarrassments of heart-breaking love, and allow poetry to talk about more things, to cover more ground and more moods, pushing into areas usually confined to the political essay or the long novel. Frost, gabbing casually forever.

But the bric-a-brac wish is in vain.

Like the legendary Faust, the poet tempted by verbose worldly riches—by poetry that attempts what prose is better fitted to do—leaves behind Millay and dies beneath the heavy objects of a modern bric-a-brac poetry only the very few are canny enough to know was a terrible danger, a foolish gambit, from the start.

Even as they know of the terrible danger of love—and the pining poetry, fainting for all mankind, which dies in its arms.

100 ESSENTIAL BOOKS OF POETRY

 

EYE Don Share

Collecting is where material pride, wisdom and love uneasily sit, an endless pursuit which moves product, an endless boon to any enterprise.  To collect is to amass, to buy, to own, to bring into one’s circle the niceties of some industry for one’s own comfort and inspection. The collectable items should be unique, if not numerous, and if not unique, at least very rare.  Collecting is to break off pieces of some whole, but the item, when found, bought, discovered, possessed, is a shining whole to the collector, and compared to it, the universe is a sad jumble—such is the profundity of collecting.

Poetry anthologies spread wealth; poetry is centrifugal; it scatters itself outward freely.  Except where it overlaps with the ‘rare book collector,’ poetry, despite its fecundity, is not collectable; collecting is centripetal; it waits in vaults and rooms crowded with unique paintings, coins, and cars.  To know coins, one must darken them in one’s palm; to know poetry, one merely glimpses what every other person glimpses.

The following list is not a rare book list; increasingly, great old poetry, important translated poetry, and all sorts of rare poetry, simply lives on the internet.

This, in many ways, is a perfectly centrifugal list, readily available to whatever soul—no matter how mysterious, no matter how centripetal, no matter how hidden, no matter how curious—happens to want it.

Poetry is against collecting.  Poetry doesn’t  hoard; you can be deeply poetic for free.

These are books you could own, or read, or memorize, or teach, or learn, and probably already have.

Good translations are necessary, but impossible.  Old poems are necessary, but impossible.  Good, new poetry is necessary, but impossible.

The list below is mundane, but necessary.  This—mostly from the top of the list—is what you read if you want to know poetry.

It is everywhere, but it still must hit you.

 

1. SHAKESPEARE SONNETS, AUDEN INTRODUCTION  Modern poetry begins here. A definite sequence: 1-14 children as immortality, 15-28 poems as immortality, etc.

2. POE: POETRY, TALES, AND SELECTED ESSAYS (LIBRARY OF AMERICA) Iconic poems, tales of poetic quality, even criticism of poetic quality

3. VIKING BOOK OF POETRY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING WORLD, RICHARD ALDINGTON  H.D.’s husband, got Eliot out of the bank, solid anthology by this Brit wounded in WW I who knew all the Modernists and hated most of them (375 poets)

4. PLATO: THE COLLECTED DIALOGUES, BOLLINGEN SERIES, EDITH HAMILTON, ED  Poetry being born

5. THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE, COMPLETE WORKS  With Shakespeare the best is just to read, and forget all the notes

6. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE, JOHN D. SINCLAIR, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD U. PRESS)  Verse translation hopeless; take the prose Sinclair with Italian on the facing page

7. THE ILIAD OF HOMER TRANSLATED BY ALEXANDER POPE (PENGUIN)  The king of men his reverent priest defied/And for the king’s offense the people died

8. THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY ALEXANDER POPE (MACMILLAN, 1911)  The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d/Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound

9. EDNA MILLAY COLLECTED, NORMA MILLAY (HARPER)  Tragically undervalued as Modernism came into vogue, Millay’s Collected is a must

10. PHILIP LARKIN THE COMPLETE POEMS, ARCHIE BURNETT  recently published master of the short lyric

11. LYRICAL BALLADS, WORDSWORTH, COLERIDGE  A shame Coleridge didn’t contribute more

12. WASTELAND AND OTHER POEMS, T.S. ELIOT  The one Modernist who could really write poetry (and prose).

13. LEAVES OF GRASS, WHITMAN (1855 EDITION) The first edition, before it got too long-winded

14. THE COMPLETE POEMS OF JOHN MILTON WRITTEN IN ENGLISH (HARVARD CLASSICS) You can’t go wrong with melodious Milton

15. UNDERSTANDING POETRY, BROOKS AND WARREN Textbooks are propaganda—this most used anthology in the 20th c. attacked Poe and elevated Pound/Williams

16. SELECTED POETRY & LETTERS, BYRON, EDWARD BOSTETTER, ED  Byron was very, very unhappy

17. POCKET BOOK OF MODERN VERSE, OSCAR WILLIAMS (1954)  Okay. Some of modern verse is good

18. A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, AN INTRODUCTORY ANTHOLOGY, CZESLAW MILOSZ  International poetry collections are good things

19. SELECTED POEMS AND TWO PLAYS, WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, ROSENTHAL, ED  Yeats benefits from Selected as opposed to Collected

20. OVID, THE LOVE POEMS, A.D. MELVILLE, ED. And you can really learn something, lovers

21. THE BEST LOVED POEMS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, HAZEL FELLEMAN  Because these uncritical anthologies always have some gems

22. ROBERT BROWNING, THE POEMS, PETTIGREW, ED. 2 VOLS  Because it’s Robert Browning

23. A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN POETRY, SELDEN RODMAN (1938)   Great snapshot of poetry in the 1930s: lots of ballads of political anguish

24. 100 GREAT POEMS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MARK STRAND, ED.  A very nice selection from a poet whose reputation is fading

25. POETRY OF WITNESS: THE TRADITION IN ENGLISH 1500-2001, CAROLYN FORCHE, DUNCAN WU, EDS   Poetry handles real horror

26. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1988, LEHMAN, SERIES ED. ASHBERY, GUEST ED. The first volume in the series may be the best

27. ARIEL, SYLVIA PLATH  A whirlwind of rhyme and rage

28. PABLO NERUDA, TWENTY LOVE SONGS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR, DUAL-LANGUAGE EDITION (PENGUIN) Neruda may get you laid

29. GREAT POEMS BY AMERICAN WOMEN: AN ANTHOLOGY, SUSAN RATTINER (DOVER) Women once had a higher standing as poets

30. OXFORD BOOK OF LIGHT VERSE, W.H. AUDEN, EDITOR  Who said light verse was light?

31. PALGRAVE’S GOLDEN TREASURY, FRANCIS TURNER PALGRAVE (1861) Look out! Right-wing poetry!

32. LIBRARY OF WORLD POETRY, WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT Worth a peek

33. 100 POEMS FROM THE JAPANESE, KENNETH REXROTH  blossoms and other stuff

34. BLACK POETS OF THE UNITED STATES: FROM PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR TO LANGSTON HUGHES, JEAN WAGNER  Before rap

35. THE OXFORD BOOK OF NARRATIVE VERSE, PETER OPIE  A narrative poem does not exist?

36. A BOY’S WILL, ROBERT FROST  His first book, published in England while the 40 year old poet made contacts there

37. THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY 1945-1960, DONALD ALLEN   Dawn of the post-war avant-garde

38. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1990, LEHMAN SERIES EDITOR, JORIE GRAHAM, GUEST EDITOR  Has that wonderful poem by Kinnell…

39. FIRST WORLD WAR POETRY, JON SILKIN, EDITOR  While being slaughtered, they wrote

40. SPANISH POETRY: A DUAL LANGUAGE ANTHOLOGY 16TH-20TH CENTURIES, ANGEL FLORES  Dual Languages are a must, really

41. THE HERITAGE OF RUSSIAN VERSE, DIMITRI OBOLENSKY  “From The Ends To The Beginning A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse” is available on-line

42. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007, LEHMAN, SERIES EDITOR, MCHUGH, GUEST EDITOR   One of the best volumes in the series

43. POETS TRANSLATE POETS, A HUDSON REVIEW ANTHOLOGY, PAULA DIETZ, ED.  Nice historical sweep…

44. ART AND ARTISTS: POEMS, EMILY FRAGOS (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)    Art really meets poetry; lovely poems

45. W.H. AUDEN COLLECTED POEMS Best poet of the 20th century; slighted by anthologies

46. POEMS 1965-1975 SEAMUS HEANEY  Never quite made it to major status

47. POEMS BEWITCHED AND HAUNTED, JOHN HOLLANDER, ED (EVERYMAN’S POCKET LIBRARY)  Some really darling pieces here

48. COMPLETE POEMS OF KEATS AND SHELLEY (MODERN LIBRARY) The two best—the best, the best

49. THE 20TH CENTURY IN POETRY, HULSE, RAE, EDS (PEGASUS BOOKS)   Wonderful idea: poems in close chronology throughout the century

50. VITA NOVA, DANTE, MARK MUSA, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD) A great book for so many reasons

51. CHAUCER: THE CANTERBURY TALES (PENGUIN) father of English literature, we hear

52. HYPERION; BALLADS & OTHER POEMS, LONGFELLOW (1841)  “Hyperion” is a very modern poem…

53. THE RAG AND BONE SHOP OF THE HEART: A POETRY ANTHOLOGY, ROBERT BLY, EDITOR  A lot of Rumi and Neruda

54. WORLD POETRY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF VERSE FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT, WASHBURN, MAJOR, FADIMAN, EDS  The translations are terrible, the selections are generally weak, but kudos for the attempt

55. LES FLEUR DU MAL, BAUDELAIRE  Ah…Baudelaire!

56. VICTORIAN WOMEN POETS: AN ANTHOLOGY, LEIGHTON, REYNOLDS, EDS (BLACKWELL)  That backwards era when women poets sold better than their male counterparts

57.  IMMORTAL POEMS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, OSCAR WILLIAMS   Solid overview (150 poets) without too much emphasis on annoying moderns

58. ALEXANDER POPE, SELECTED (OXFORD POETRY LIBRARY) You could do worse than his verse

59. A TREASURY OF GREAT POEMS, LOUIS UNTERMEYER   Almost 2OO poets

60. AMERICAN POETRY: THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, HOLLANDER, ED, LIBRARY OF AMERICA   A good look around at two centuries ago

61. ANEID, VIRGIL, ROBERT FITZGERALD, TRANSLATOR  Poet of the silver age…

62. THE POETICAL WORKS OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, RUTH M. ADAMS INTRO  She was the famous poet when Robert met her

63. THE ESSENTIAL RUMI, COLEMAN BARKS, ED  Passion pushed to the limit of wisdom

64. EUGENE ONEGIN BY ALEXANDER PUSHKIN, STANLEY MITCHELL (PENGUIN) The most modern of all epics

65. DYLAN THOMAS, COLLECTED, PAUL MULDOON, INTRO Too drunk to write many poems; this may be good or bad

66. POETRY OF DEREK WALCOTT 1948-2013, SELECTED BY GLYN MAXWELL  Between obligation and pleasure, we read…

67. BRITISH POETRY SINCE 1945, EWARD LUCIE-SMITH.  The poor modern Brits, neither old nor quite modern

68. THE PALM AT THE END OF THE MIND, WALLACE STEVENS, SELECTED POEMS & A PLAY  Pretentious rot, but fun

69. ROBERT LOWELL, COLLECTED  Most overrated poet of the 20th century, but has his moments

70  AMERICAN PRIMITIVE, MARY OLIVER  Our little Wordsworth

71. GORGEOUS NOTHINGS, EMILY DICKINSON, WERNER, BERRIN, EDS (NEW DIRECTIONS)  A really bizarre document

72. ELIZABETH BISHOP, POEMS (FSG)  Another one of those poets who wrote few, but good, poems

73. A CHOICE OF ENGLISH ROMANTIC POETRY, STEPHEN SPENDER (DIAL PRESS)  Rare, if you can track it down…(it’s at the Grolier in Hvd Sq)

74. CHIEF MODERN POETS OF BRITAIN AND AMERICA, 5th Edition, SANDERS, NELSON, ROSENTHAL  Can’t get enough of those chief poets

75. NEW AMERICAN POETS OF THE 80s, MYERS & WEINGARTEN Look back into the recent, recent past

76. BIRTHDAY LETTERS, TED HUGHES  The poetry isn’t good, but interesting historical document

77. TRANFORMATIONS, ANNE SEXTON, FOREWARD BY KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Modernized fairy tales—very influential

78. THE ESSENTIAL HAIKU, ROBERT HASS, ED (ECCO)  We forget Imagism sprang directly from haiku rage in West after Japan won Russo-Japanese War

79. THE DIVINE COMEDY, CLIVE JAMES, TRANSLATOR. This new translation is worth a read

80. PENGUIN BOOK OF FRENCH POETRY 1820-1950  Good translation anthologies are few and far between

81. ESSENTIAL PLEASURES: A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS TO READ ALOUD, PINSKY, ED  Reading aloud is good

82. THE RATTLE BAG, SEAMUS HEANEY, TED HUGHES, EDS  Conservative selection: Shakespeare, Blake, Hardy, Lawrence, Frost, etc

83. MODERNIST WOMEN POETS, ROBERT HASS, PAUL EBENKAMP, EDS   Not a large number of poets

84. COLLECTED FRENCH TRANSLATIONS, JOHN ASHBERY (FSG)  Not the most trustworthy translator, but we’ll take ’em

85. VILLANELLES (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)  These editions are available and lovely—why not?

86. BRIGHT WINGS: AN ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS ABOUT BIRDS, BILLY COLLINS, ED  All the best poems are bird poems—it’s really true

87. THE ETERNAL ONES OF THE DREAM: SELECTED POEMS 1990-2010, JAMES TATE Iowa Workshop poem par excellence, poignant, miserable, and cute

88. GOOD POEMS, GARRISON KEILLOR  As accessible as it gets

89. THE MAKING OF A SONNET, HIRSCH/BOLAND, EDS (NORTON) There’s no best sonnet anthology, but this one is good

90. MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA, DAVID HINTON, ED  Includes the major poets

91. SELECTED RILKE, ROBERT BLY, ED  Amazing how well Rilke sells in the U.S.

92. KING JAMES BIBLE  Yea, poetry

93. WELDON KEES, COLLECTED POEMS, DONALD JUSTICE, ED  Somewhat creepy—as modern poetry truly ought to be?

94. BILLY COLLINS, AIMLESS LOVE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (RANDOM HOUSE)  Collins is America’s modern poet—get used to it.

95. JOHN ASHBERY, SELF PORTRAIT IN A CONVEX MIRROR  His tour de force

96. NORTH OF BOSTON, ROBERT FROST (1915, HENRY HOLT) Like Emerson, Whitman, and Melville before him, interest by the English was the ticket to fame

97. HOWL AND OTHER POEMS, ALLEN GINSBERG  A Hieronymous Bosch nightmare

98. TALES FROM THE DECAMERON OF GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO, RICHARD ALDINGTON (1930)  this 14th century writer considered a ‘novelist’ but influenced Chaucer

99. EROSION, JORIE GRAHAM  Such promise!  Then along came Alan Cordle

100. LUNCH POEMS, FRANK O’HARA  Not repasts; snacks; the virtue of O’Hara is that he’s funny

 

 

 

THIRTY TOP MASS APPEAL POETRY MOMENTS IN U.S. HISTORY

 

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1. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe is published in the New York Evening Mirror, January 29, 1845

2.  Robert Frost reads “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural, January 20, 1961

3.  Martin Luther King delivers his “I Have A Dream” speech, August 28, 1963

4. Dead Poets  Society, starring Robin Williams, released, June 9, 1989

5. Neil Armstrong’s moon landing speech, July 20, 1969

6. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” first played at flag-raising ceremony on Fort Warren, May 12, 1861

7. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg address,” November 19, 1863

8. Cassius Clay, boxer and poet, defeats Sonny Liston,  heavyweight champion, February 25, 1964

9. “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus recited at the Statue of Liberty’s Dedication, October 28, 1886

10. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan released, May 27, 1963

11. “The Star-Spangled Banner” first published, in Baltimore, September 20, 1814

12. Sylvia Plath’s suicide in England, February 11, 1963

13. Japan wins Russo-Japanese War, starting Haiku rage in the West, September 5, 1905

14. “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes published in Boston Daily Advertiser, September 16, 1830

15. Jack Kerouac reads his poetry on Steven Allen show (with Allen on piano), November 16, 1959

16. James Russell Lowell delivers “Ode” at Harvard Commemoration, July 21, 1865

17. Mick Jagger reads Shelley’s “Adonais” at Brian Jones’ memorial in England, July 5, 1969

18. Ella Wheeler Wilcox publishes her most famous poem in New York Sun, the year she publishes controversial Poems of Passion, February 25, 1883

19. Dana Gioia publishes his essay, “Can Poetry Matter?” in The Atlantic, May, 1991

20. “Mary Had A Little Lamb” by Sarah Josepha Hale published, May 24, 1830

21. Actor Jimmy Stewart reads poem “I’ll Never Forget A Dog Named Beau” on the Tonight Show, making Johnny Carson cry, July 28, 1981

22. Ronald Regan’s Challenger Disaster Speech, January 28, 1986

23. Maya Angelou reads “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton inaugural, January 20, 1993

24. Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” published, November 10, 1855

25. Ezra Pound wins Bollingen Prize with NY Times headline: “Pound In Mental Clinic Wins Prize for Poetry Penned In Treason Cell,” February 20, 1949

26. “Rapture” by Blondie released, January 12, 1981

27. “The Music Man” by Meredith Wilson opens, December 19, 1957

28. Elizabeth Alexander reads “Praise Song for the Day” at Barack Obama’s inaugural, January 20, 2009

29. Publisher Horace Liveright makes offers for works by Pound, Eliot, and Joyce, January 3, 1922.

30. Favorite Poem Project launched by poet laureate Robert Pinsky, April 1, 1997

 

“YOUR AVANT-GARDE IS NOT AVANT-GARDE” MAZER, ARCHAMBEAU, AND BURT AT THE GROLIER

“In  speaking of the Poetic Principle, I have no design to be either thorough or profound.” —Edgar Poe

Last Friday evening at the Grolier poetry bookshop, Robert Archambeau, Stephen Burt, and Ben Mazer each read a paper on ‘Poetry: What’s Next?’ Wise man Henry Gould, up from RI, was in the audience, as was Philip Nikolayev, extraordinary poet and translator. Scarriet, fortunate the Grolier is in our own backyard, attended out of mere curiosity and a certain low motive pertaining to literary friendship.

Archambeau, Burt, and Mazer are powerhouses of Letters: they are scholars and authors we need to know about.

Mazer is a scowler; Archambeau, a smiler; and Burt simply harangues, mouth perpetually open. But do not be fooled by these superficial observations, which we make with affection; all three, when one moves into their personal orbit, are as sweet as can be, civilized by poetry in that conspiracy which outsiders must feel is the purpose of poetry: to strive to make manners and politeness supreme. Those educated by Letters are nice. The poet with low morals belongs to another era, and something tells us the lacking morals part was always a myth. With poets, a handshake is never a handshake; or it may be one, or less of one, or more of one, and one never knows this, and that is the whole point, and the joy, or the despair, of the poet and their poetry. But they do, finally, shake hands like everyone else, even the most philosophical of them.

But to the presentation itself: the three papers stuck to poetry, and thus were not about poetry.

To properly discuss a thing, one must discuss its parts. The parts, however, because they are parts, do not resemble the thing, and discussing parts is to stray from the thing, like being in the ocean away from the island (it can be scary), and none of the speakers, as witty as they were, had the intellectual courage to do this. They were all very much aware that they were to speak on poetry—poetry as it is always generally discussed by their contemporaries, and this is what they did.

Or at least Mazer and Burt did so.

Archambeau pointed out the post-modern marketing phenomenon of naming an electronic device a Blackberry, saying this was an act of Symbolist Poetry, and here this author and critic, a brilliant man of substance with a shy smile, was, in his cleverness, feeling his way towards the principle.

But alas, the tendency to discuss actual parts, so we might better familiarize ourselves with the actual thing comes up against that which most hinders it: poetry—in this case, Symbolist Poetry, one of many self-contained stars in a modernist firmament with astronomers obsessed with “what’s next?” and leaving “what is it?” to the old-fashioned, like Aristotle, Plato, and Shelley, who knew that “what’s next” cannot be discussed if we don’t wonder “what is it?” and that we should never take the latter for granted.

We are always discussing newly “what is it?”

“What’s next?” belongs only to Modernism’s sleight-of-hand.

But back to Blackberry. Archambeau gave us the wonderful counter-example, “Murphy’s Oil,” the old way of naming before Mallarme’s allusiveness fired up the imagination of the market; yet weren’t they calling baseball teams Giants back in the 19th century?

Archambeau also claimed that in the near future poets were going to rhyme like they had never rhymed before. A rhyme would become like a dare-devil “stunt,” Archambeau happily assured us, quoting some Jay-Z, and as we were swept up in this prophecy of euphoria, we still managed to wonder: where were the edifying examples? What makes a good rhyme and a bad rhyme? For to ask, “what is it?” implies the good: What is good poetry? What is good rhyme? We don’t want the bad, whether it’s behind us or before us.

The three gentlemen unconsciously pursued this course, as well: it was assumed all that was coming was good. Mazer, perhaps, escaped this, for he spoke on what poetry should be, in general; his was more an ought than a prophecy: Burt and Archambeau hewed to ‘this is a particular thing that is actually going to happen if it is not sort of happening already,’ predictions without much daring, saying only: we will see more of this already fully developed type of poetry.

None seemed conscious of it, but all three, we were rather pleased to hear, struck a concerted blow against the “what’s next?” trope.

Mazer fought the good fight with his scornful, “your avant-garde is not avant-garde.”

Burt, blurting “if I see one more book on Conceptualism or Flarf, I will…refuse to read it!” was another sign that there is a rebellion brewing against the whole blind, played-out, modernist, “what’s next?” syndrome, and a desire to get off the ‘what’s new’ treadmill for a moment.

But what did they say was coming?

We already mentioned that Archambeau sees a revival of rhyme, together with a counter movement of Symbolist “nuance,” and spent the rest of his twenty minutes naming familiar poetries in recent history: the Fireside Poets, featuring Longfellow, and their poetry of “middle class values” (and thus deserving, we assume, oblivion), Gertrude Stein foregrounding language for its own sake, with a ‘poetry only’ sub-culture of magazines and bookstores growing in the wake of poetry detaching itself from middle class values, giving rise to Vanessa Place and Conceptualism, as poetry against middle class values (and capitalism) replaces poetry for middle class values. And then we come full circle as Archambeau reminds us the modernist Frost is a poet of middle class values and really, so are the current poets of the Ethnic, Gender, Racial, Regional, Disability, micro-communities.

Archambeau ended with the epigrammatic observation that ‘what’s next’ is a revival of the past and it is “hard to predict the past.”

It is even harder to say what the past is, and what poetry is. This we did not get. “Rhyme” and “middle class values” satisfy a superficial hunger; the salted popcorn we eat forever without getting close to what poetry is, exactly.

Burt came next, and Burt, who has read more than anyone else, seemed determined to give us not only the forest and the trees, but a command to protect both: the big thing on the horizon for Burt is a big thing: poems of “area study,” which are “reported facts of a place,” grounding the poet in geographical reality, and one has to admire the ambition and the practicality, not to mention the many neo-classical, Romantic, and Modernist precedents. Williams’ Patterson and Olson’s Gloucester, as Burt quickly concedes, may fail in the “elegance and concision” departments, but what better way to talk about Climate Change?

Burt, a Harvard professor, pays homage, consciously, or not, to his institution’s illustrious poetic tradition: Emerson through Jorie Graham (her recent acute concern for the planet is her expansive-lyric trump card) champion America’s and the World’s Wilderness; this was explicit in Burt’s talk: “Area Study” poetry ought not to be “a cultural center,” Burt warned, like “Brooklyn or San Francisco;” a poet like Ammons should record planetary destruction where the public might not notice.

The other vital development for Burt will be poetry that, unlike “Area Study,” does embrace “ornament,” in poetry that is “uselessly beautiful.” And again, Stephen Burt makes sure his political sensitivity is on display: women are doing this kind of poetry, he tells us.

Burt is mad for the Eternal Feminine, embracing the earth in Area Study and, in his counter trend, women’s work that is “elaborate without worrying about the past,” and “not efficient or war-like.” This is the passive, receptive Muse of Shelley; this is Archambeau’s New Rhyme movement, but Burt is completely female, and so no dead white male “revivalist” interest is allowed; he mentions Angie Estes, “not a New Formalist of the 80s” and quotes her in perhaps the best example offered in an evening with few examples: “scent of a sentence which is ready to speak.” Note the absence of rhyme’s muscle, and instead the liquid alliteration.

Burt is ready for the pastoral and the pretty, the rustic and the raw. Burt is the female sprawl to Archambeau’s male all. Burt cannot abide the gallery and its Conceptual, urbane cleverness and really seems to want to leave the past behind; the closest he comes to cultural centrality is a nod to what he sees as a “smarter performance poetry” on the horizon, a “de-centered, tweetable, slam poetry, far from the literary past.” The poets Burt cites in this third movement are women, too: Ariana Reines, Patricia Lockwood, and Daniella Pafunda.

Mazer followed, and he was the rock rising above the fire and the water, rather glum compared to the first two, arguing for abiding truths like “empathic imagination” and “divine oracularity,” quoting early 20th century figures not to signal revolutionary beginnings, but to eulogize trends fizzling out in the “de-radicalization” and ahistorical “creative writing boon” and “awards” obsessed present. Mazer was playing the real poet in the room, intoning a dark warning to the glib critics. He did not mention any contemporary poets. Archambeau pointed to the fire in the sky, Burt showed us the chuckling streams hidden around the mountain. Mazer, by implication, was the mountain.

No one spoke on the anthology; and what possible role that would play in the future of poetry.

There were a few questions from the audience afterwards: Henry Gould wondered about the Balkanization of poetry; obsessed with movements and trends, aren’t we watering down what should be a poetry of the best combination of all possible parts?

Gould is right, of course. If Burt, for instance, is unwilling to clear a space where even Global Warming Deniers can participate, then, rightly or wrongly, the whole thing is finally about Global Warming, not poetry.

Poetry should have one, and only one, political rule: inclusivity.  The inclusivity should be radical; that is, we should all be included right now; a participatory government may say: your candidate lost—work, work, work, and come back in four years; poetry is more inclusive, still.  No subject gets special treatment in poetry. Will certain political beliefs lend themselves better to the poetic enterprisePerhaps. But we need to find out only when the example is before us, and cooly examined.

We have a feeling only Mazer, standing aloof from contemporary clamor, would really judge a new poem solely on its poetic merit. Brilliant Burt and artful Archambeau, immersed as they are in pluralistic poetics, would pigeon-hole first, and then judge. This we feel, even as we confess to being more entertained by Burt and Archambeau’s presentations.

UNDERSTANDING WHAT? THE TEXTBOOK THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

In the United States in 1949, every other college student had his college education paid for by the GI Bill.  Government sponsored college loans didn’t happen until 1958 (Sputnik).  During the unprecedented growth of American college education in the middle of the 20th century, one poetry textbook was beamed into the brains of two generations of college professors, teachers and students—Understanding Poetry, by Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren; Holt, Rinehart, Winston; 1938, 1950, 1960, 1976.

To know this textbook is to know how you, dear reader—and every living respected poet and critic—thinks about poetry.

Prepare to become acquainted with your soul.

Understanding Poetry was written by two New Critics; what was known as the New Criticism was not just an ideology, but an influential clique of Southern men with an in; New Criticism was the donnish, government-connected, academic arm of Modernism—the 20th century’s one real school of poetry, which replaced Classical and Romantic Verse with something more free, with something entirely different.

The public’s rejection of Modernism can be summed up simply:  “A very large part of human conduct and human life is loathsome, disgusting, and grotesque.  Poetry has traditionally been an antidote to this.  Poetry discovers the beauty and dignity of human life, of human expression.  Poetry, in the name of modern all-inclusiveness, however, revels in the discordant, the ugly, and the disgusting, and this is…creepy.   We don’t like it.”

We are familiar with the world of objection this elicits from the Modernist: “all-inclusiveness” is truthful; you are backwards to censure the truth.

The “truth,” however, is that there are many avenues to the “truth,” and no profession or craft is defined by the whole truth, but rather by the particular way it approaches the truth; otherwise we wouldn’t be able to define that particular craft or profession.  And this is the truth.

Understanding Poetry, influential Modernist document that it is, comes down strongly on one side of the argument outlined above: for all-inclusiveness.

Here is how poetry is clumsily and pessimistically introduced to the student in the first paragraph of the book’s first chapter, “Poetry As a Way of Saying.” The strategy seems to be: let’s concede to all the insensitive lugs why poetry may indeed suck—this “strategy” turns out, in reality, to be the soul of the book itself.

Poetry is a kind of “saying.” It is, however, a kind that many people, until they become well acquainted with it, feel is rather peculiar and even useless. They feel this way for two reasons: the “way of the saying” and the “nature of the said.” As for the “way of the saying,” the strongly marked rhythms, the frequent appearance of rhyme, and the figurative language may seem odd and distracting; and as for the “nature of the said,” it generally contains neither a good, suspenseful story nor obviously useful information. Poetry, in short, may seem both unnatural and irrelevant.

Think of all the glorious ways the editors could have led off.  Instead, we get this utter sheepishness. Of all the definitions of poetry, this is perhaps the dullest we have ever heard: Poetry is a kind of “saying.” 

In their defense, we are sure, that as text book authors, they were attempting the plainest and least adorned definition possible so as not to scare away the plain-speaking person who has no natural inclination to poetry. The danger of this position, however, is that one ends up arguing, and rallying to, the devil’s case: poetry is “useless,” especially if one is not “well acquainted” with it.  Attempting to “be democratic,” the elitist is just more elitist in the end—and this, in a nutshell, is what happened with Modernist poetry and its mass readership, as the art of poetry got lost in the shuffle: elitism was sniffed out, wearing its democratic dress.  The masses left.

The editors attempt an optimistic recovery in the second paragraph, but it’s too little, too late: “Yet poetry…has survived, in one form or another…we may…consider…it does spring from deep human impulses and does fulfill human needs.”

And in the first actual description of poetry, the editors say poetry is primarily “strongly marked by rhythm.”  Those “strongly marked rhythms” which “may seem odd and distracting” from paragraph one?  Yes, those rhythms.

But if the editors of Understanding Poetry are content to play down poetry and weakly define it, the reason is clear: poetry resists definition because to the Modernist critic, poetry, in its modern guise, is an all-inclusive sort of everything, which simultaneously rejects and converts itself into whatever it is, from the old poetry it is leaving behind.

Those “marked rhythms” that identify poetry?  According to our text book’s introduction, these include “seasons…moon…tides…migration of birds…” and those of the “human body…” a “locus of rhythms,” including “hunger and satiety.”  Rhythm includes “all life…all activity” and is “deeply involved in…emotion…”

We are reminded that “rhythm is a natural and not an artificial aspect of emotion…”

The human is at the center of their definition: in the second paragraph we got “human impulses” and “human needs” and then the human body as a “locus of rhythms” and finally, “emotion,” with the caveat that poetry’s “rhythm,” to properly express emotion must be “natural” and not “artificial.”

The real, natural human appears to be what they are after, in their long reach towards poetry.

Having made much of “rhythm,” they make a weak nod to “rhyme” as a “verbal structure” and memory aid, but they quickly re-visit their thesis: “man is a form-making animal.”

Finally, they get language and its origin in their sights.  The editors agree with Emerson (and quote Owen Barfield) in support of the notion that language is “metaphoric” and they say that “slang” is “healthy” for this reason: “Slang is simply the bastard brother of poetry.”

Understanding Poetry invests a great deal in metaphor: “metaphor represents not only the “way of saying” but also the “said.”  Metaphor might be said to be a fancy way of saying something indirectly, of deferring meaning, of creating a kind of fake synthesis, whipping up a comparative “significance” where none exists.  If I say “X is a lot like Y,” it really doesn’t matter whether X and Y resemble each other, or not.  I will find some similarity, and this will make me cleverer, or even a better poet, than you, even though no one is closer to knowing anything about “X” or “Y.”  The labor used in comparing two objects might be better used elsewhere. Comparing two things is usually not the method for knowing a thing.  We have neither the time or the space to conduct a philosophical inquiry into this subject here, but it might be enough to say that great minds have rejected metaphor, even in poetry, as all-important.

They look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, “That time of year thou may’st in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang…”

Shakespeare compares himself rather elaborately to autumn.  But why, the editors ask, doesn’t he just say “I am getting old?”

Because, the editors, say, how he feels about “getting old” is also important.   Poetry, they say, is “attitudes and feelings…as they come specifically into experience…action and ideas.”

And then, by page 6 of their 16 page introduction, the editors finally reveal their hand: “poetry is concerned with the massiveness, the multidimensional quality of experience.”

Poetry is just whatever you, in natural, human terms, feel about anything, and the “verbal structure” of poetry is pretty much there to “frame” this “feeling” you have about whatever piece of the “massiveness” of “experience” triggers your feeling.

I could have just said, “I am getting old,” but in order to make you understand how “I feel” about getting old, I throw in some “yellow leaves.”

As the editors put it, “the realm of practical action and that of attitudes and feelings are not separated.”

When poetry is defined this way: as whatever we feel about whatever, we see, finally how “massive” this definition becomes, and this Modernist definition is, in fact, a definition of Modernist poetry, in its suicidal all-inclusiveness.  It sure as hell isn’t a definition of poetry as composed by the genius Shakespeare.  It is poetry reduced to the level of the lug.

The editors’ introduction briefly compares poetry to science, but reject the latter as that which is merely “precise” and “mathematical.”  Science gives us mere H2O, while poetry gives us “water” and thus “associations of drinking, bathing, boating…adventure on the high seas…” etc  Water’s metaphors do massive work.  Mathematics, which scientifically interprets nature, is told to take a hike.

The stake is driven into the heart of science by a quote from Walker Percy:

The secret is this: Science cannot utter a single word about an individual molecule, thing, or creature in so far as it is an individual but only so far as it is like other individuals. The layman thinks that only science can utter the true word about anything, individuals, included. But the layman is an individual. So science cannot say a single word to him or about him except as he resembles others. It comes to pass then that the denizen of a scientific-technological society finds himself in the strangest of predicaments: he lives in a cocoon of dead silence, in which no one can speak to him nor can he reply.

This is a stunning rebuke—by an influential text book by way of Walker Percy—of science and universal truth. Words, by definition, are universals: poetry, too, then, must live in “dead silence” to the individual reader.  This is interesting, but especially in terms of what the editors are trying to say, nonsense, nonetheless.  The “individual” is a word, which we understand only as much as it “resembles others.”  Walker Percy, and the editors of Understanding Poetry, are stuck in a paradox from which there is no escape.  Their rejection of science and a “scientific-technological society” here is nothing but a deeply crackpot protest, if we are to be honest about it.

After dismissing science, the authors keep after the importance of  subjective”feeling:”

At first glance, the field of feeling and attitudes may seem trivial when thought of in contrast to the great bustling practical business of the world or in contrast to the vast body of organized knowledge which science is and which allows man to master, to a certain degree, nature and his own fate.  The field of feeling and attitude may seem to be “merely personal” and “merely subjective,” and therefore of no general interest. But at second thought, we may realize that all the action and knowledge in the world can be valuable only as these things bring meaning to life—to our particular lives, especially.

…Poetry is concerned with the world as responded to sensorially, emotionally, and intellectually. But—and this fact constitutes another significant characteristic of poetry that cannot be overemphasized—this response always involves all three of these elements: a massive, total response—what we have called earlier the multidimensional quality of experience.

…Poetry enables us to know what it “feels like” to be alive in the world. What does it “feel like,” for instance, to be in love, to hate somebody…

Here we have a classic case of the Emersonian Exaggeration: poetry is ill-defined as something anti-scientific, and subjectively and even trivially emotional, and this very definition leads those defining it as such, to subsequently make utterly irrational and exaggerated claims for it, such as “poetry enables us to know what it feels like to be alive…”

First, the editors establish poetry as trivial, emotional, subjective, and then they heap accolades on it which it cannot possibly support.

According to Understanding Poetry, poetry does not exist objectively as an art; it has no verse-like attributes; in the Modernist spirit, it resembles something like an octopus on your face.

The editors inform us that poetry, in all its aspects, is a response to life—in all its aspects.   Poetry, then, is the same as life.  There’s no difference. That, in fact, is their definition of poetry.  Welcome to Modernism.

To prove this, they point out that, “we may have a child chess champion or musical prodigy, but not a child literary critic or dramatist.”  Well, no wonder.  I wouldn’t let a child of mine near Understanding Poetry.  But we might point out that Poe wrote extraordinary poems as a teenager.  And a child (or an adult) is all the wiser for not comprehending the New Criticism.

To keep their (definition of) poetry from drowning in the sea of life, the editors, sensing a complete loss of identity, suddenly begin singing about “vital unity:”

What is crucial to poetry is that these elements—metaphor, rhythm, and statement—are absorbed into a vital unity. The poem, in its vital unity, is a “formed” thing, a thing existing in itself, and its vital unity, its form, embodies—is—its meaning. Yet paradoxically, by the fact of its being “formed” and having its special identity, it somehow makes us more aware of life outside itself. By its own significance it awakens us to the significance of our experience and of the world.

We see, then, that a poem is not to be thought of as merely a bundle of things that are “poetic” in themselves.

…Certainly it is not to be thought of as a group of mechanically combined elements—meter, rhyme, figurative language, idea, and so on—put together to make a poem as bricks are put together to make a wall. The total relationship among all the elements in a poem is what is all-important; it is not a mechanical relationship but one that is far more intimate and fundamental. If we must compare a poem to the makeup of some physical object, it ought to be not a wall but to something organic like a plant.

The editors are unable to define poetry in practical, common sense, scientific terms; therefore they make it very important whether we say poetry is “like” a wall, or “like” a plant.  Feeling that “metaphor” is vital to poetry, it is perhaps no accident that they reflect this in their hazy attempt at a definition.

Since quotations always help definitions, the authors, who used Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, now turn to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Quoting Shakespeare is a good idea.  Instead of this text book, why not Shakespeare’s Works?  Poetry becomes less and less the more the authors write about it.

They quote Macbeth to illustrate  “a lack of…melodious effects…the broken rhythms and the tendency to harshness of sound are essential to the dramatic effect that Shakespeare wished.” When “murder” is involved, poetry becomes broken—and this is a good thing.  We are essentially told that poetry—which the editors still haven’t defined—needs to be mangled for dramatic license.

Perhaps “mangled” isn’t fair.  We’ll quote the Shakespeare passage and a specific observation they make about it:

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
With his surcease, success, that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come.

…The piling up of the s sounds in the second, third, and fourth lines helps to give the impression of desperate haste and breathless excitement; the effect is of a conspiratorial whisper.  The rhythm and sound effects of the passage, then, are poetic in the only sense that we have seen to be legitimate: they are poetic because they contribute to the total significance of the passage.

This is interesting—even brilliant, and we note again the persistent theme: poetry is nothing in itself except as it mimics life.  We would call this admirable, but we cannot. Are we really to believe that the “s sound” belongs to all poetry evincing “conspiratorial whisper[ing]?”  Is this a rule?  What about the words in that passage which are not sibilant? Should the actor cease to whisper when uttering the word “catch”and “blow” and “time” and “come?”  As much as we like the observation, as much as we admire Shakespeare, we do not think a marvelous hissing sound made by an actor belongs to either the cause or the effect of poetry, except in a very marginal way.

A good actor can make any script sound dramatic in any number of ways.  The truth is, poetry is not, by definition, a script with all sorts of directorial notes hidden within it.  This is to confuse poetry with the dramatic arts; and even Shakespeare is no excuse for this confusion.  The student of poetry, if they listen to Brooks and Warren, will come away believing that bad poetry is really good—because various dramatic situations turn the good to bad which is deemed good.  Not only will the student poet be convinced by his Modernist elders, Brooks and Warren, that his bad poetry is good, he will be convinced his poetry is “dramatic,” as well.

We see the New Critical rationale at work: since ‘the poem’ is considered all, let us really make it all in our definition; let us have life flow in and out of the poem so that they are almost one.  “A situation underlies every poem, and the poem is what the situation provokes.”  The poem is “a little—or sometimes a big—drama.”

The origin and effect of poetry, according to the New Criticism, are largely irrelevant.  The why of a poem’s making and the why of a poem’s impact are thus, irrelevant.

On one hand, for Brooks and Warren, poetry belongs to the “stuff of life,” (making its specific existence vague in the extreme) and at the same time, life is not permitted to ask what poetry is for, exactly, and to what good is it aimed?  Plato asked these larger questions, and is mostly considered rude and inappropriate for doing so.  Aristotle, who focused more on the art itself, influences to a much greater extent, the Modernists. Yet even Aristotle is too precise for them. The Modernist shuns categories, divisions, parts, for the generalized rant:

In an important sense, all poems are fictional, even poems that profess to be autobiographical, for the voice of the poem is inevitably a creation and not a natural and spontaneous outburst.

This contradicts what was said earlier: the authors said a poem’s emotions should be “natural” and not “artificial.”  They said a poem was like “a plant” and not something “mechanical.”  Yet here they insist a poem is never “spontaneous.”  These gentlemen grew up on Romanticism, and are trying to replace it, with all its errors, with something even more replete with error, that they, nor anyone else, understands.

They recommend the “mask” as a dramatic truth-telling device (quoting Yeats, Wilde and Emerson), and point out that Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, was named after Robert E. Lee, began his career in England, and “Yankee-fy’d” his poetic voice “to develop the character that speaks in his poems.”  New Criticism masks the truth, so why shouldn’t it be enamored of the mask?  We can’t deny they make sense when they say, “when we are making an acquaintance with a poem, we must answer these questions: 1) Who is speaking? 2) Why?”  But according to the New Critics, these questions can only be asked of the fiction.  Their brief analysis of Frost, however, would seem to indicate they know how to unmask, when necessary.  One rule for them, one rule for you.

We speak of an enlarged capacity for the experience of poetry as an end to be gained. But some people assume that no preparation, no effort, no study, no thought, is necessary for that experience, and that if a poem seems to make such demands it is so much the less poetry.  This assumption is sadly erroneous…

As they wind up their introduction, they are back to asserting the craven pedantry that “an enlarged capacity for the experience of poetry” is more important than learning what poetry actually is, and even questioning its very existence.  True learning names what things are, discriminates, narrows, weeds out; an “enlarged capacity” and “demands” is code for: you’ll clean out my stables before I will call you a poet—and that’s only if I like you.

By way of conclusion we must emphasize two related matters of the greatest importance: First, criticism and analysis, as modestly practiced in this book and more grandly elsewhere and by other hands, is ultimately of value only insofar as it can return to the poem itself—return them, that is, better prepared to experience it more immediately, fully, and, shall we say, innocently. The poem is an experience, yes, but it is a deeply significant experience, and criticism aims only at making the reader more aware of the depth and range of the experience. Second, there is no point at which a reader can say, “I am now ready to experience poetry.”

Why should Criticism only “return to the poem itself?”  Why should Criticism only “better prepare [us] to experience [the poem] more immediately, fully…?”

Understanding Poetry makes the amorphous “experience” of poetry the end of the whole process—a process which should be asking:  Why poetry?  What is poetry?  This influential text instead urges on us a kind of endless “experiencing” of the “experience” of a poem that is the “experience” of life’s “experience.”  Plenty of room for nuance, here, sure.  But also plenty of room for crap, pedantic bullying, emotional grandstanding, and ‘office politics’ corruption.

The introduction is reinforced by chapter one,  “Dramatic Situation,” and its foreword:

We have said that the “stuff of poetry” is not something separate from the ordinary business of living, but itself inheres in that business.  We hear someone say that a farm boy has suffered a fatal accident while cutting wood with a buzz-saw; or we read in the newspaper…

The authors want to shove horrible “accidents” in our face and make this the standard of poetry. Poetry, for Brooks and Warren, becomes journalism, or worse:

[Poetic] interest, as we have indicated, is not scientific or practical, but is simply the general curiosity we feel about people as human beings. Even though the account of a painful accident or a sordid murder seems almost as far removed as possible from poetry, it arouses the kind of interest which poetry attempts to satisfy, and comprises the “stuff of poetry.

The editors then present “Out, Out—” by Robert Frost as the first poem in the book.

THE ENGLISH FROST AND THE AMERICAN BLAKE

This illustration of William Blake was published 200 years ago

This year marks the 200th anniversary of America’s 1813 defeat of Great Britain and their American Indian allies for the control of the Great Lakes region in the War of 1812.

In this “Second War of  American Independence,” the British Empire failed to take back her American colony, even as she tried to do so, cynically using its native peoples.  Vast designs always trump the politically correct.

William Blake, like many English Romantic poets, such as Coleridge, Southey, and Keats, took a great interest in what was happening in America.  Blake’s first illuminated book of poems was called “America, A Prophecy.”

Blake was a radical freak, hated by the British establishment, but the Americans struggling against the oppressive British Empire were never able to figure out what Willie Blake was saying when he wrote about America.

Who the hell knows what the following means?

‘I know thee, I have found thee, and I will not let thee go:
Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa,
And thou art fall’n to give me life in regions of dark death.
On my American plains I feel the struggling afflictions
Endur’d by roots that writhe their arms into the nether deep.
I see a Serpent in Canada who courts me to his love,
In Mexico an Eagle, and a Lion in Peru;
I see a Whale in the south-sea, drinking my soul away.
O what limb-rending pains I feel! thy fire and my frost
Mingle in howling pains, in furrows by thy lightnings rent.
This is eternal death, and this the torment long foretold.’

“A Serpent in Canada” recalls the network that produced the actions of John Wilkes-Booth in the “Third War of American Independence,” the U.S. Civil War, fifty-two years later, or it might have something to do with the War of 1812, as well.  But with William “howling pains” Blake, no one really knows.  This is not to knock Blake’s genius, but he was a loon, and the American experiment to him probably meant “free love” more than anything else.  The complexities of U.S./British geopolitics was far beyond the Blake of “Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa” and yet Blake was no doubt writing in code to avoid being tossed into a British prison.

If Blake was a typically English radical: too crazy/clever to be a danger to anyone, Robert Frost was the son of a San Francisco politician—(Democrat all the way) who tried to enlist to fight for the South in the Civil War (but was too young).

In other words, Robert Frost was the heir to the States’ rights politics which almost doomed the United States in the “Third War of American Independence.” Frost turned New England crankiness into American Poetry gold.

It is the 50th anniversary of Frost’s death and the 100th anniversary of the publication of Frost’s first book, his trip to England as an unknown poet, and the discovery of Frost by another crank, Ezra Pound, who happened to be another States’ rights loon.

The Dymock Poets—their 100th anniversary, as well, a group decimated by the First World War (England was now finally our friend and hating on Germany) helped Frost, too. But Pound got Frost into Poetry, and a star was born.  If you haven’t heard of the Dymock Poets, it’s probably because Pound didn’t like them.  If you wanted to be a famous poet in the 20th century, you had to meet one person: Pound. Frost took a trip to England in 1913 and got lucky.

Which brings us to our March Madness 2013 clash between Frost and Blake.  Both poets are seeking the Sweet Sixteen with poems of alterity, and both poems might have something to do with the 400 year love/hate relationship between England and the United States.

MENDING WALL–Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

A POISON TREE—William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

This is fascinating stuff.

Frost, it is pretty certain from the poem, never “told his wrath” to his neighbor, even as he (Frost) harbors feelings that his neighbor is a “old-stone savage armed.”

Blake’s seems the more psychologically astute, the cleverer in terms of hostile action, just as one would expect the British to be.

Frost, the American, in his depiction of war, by comparison, seems lumbering and obvious: “He moves in darkness it seems to me–Not of woods only and the shades of trees.”  Also, note how the Frost poem reflects economic America’s plenty (apples…cows…) and a lack of any reason to fight at all: “My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines…”

Frost seems matter-of-fact and reasonable compared to Blake, and “Mending Wall” is a triumph of that sort of rambling, calm, lower-your-blood-pressure, free verse that neither Pound nor Williams nor Eliot could quite pull off.

Frost made it big in the wake of the insanity of World War One, and the comforting, New England humor of “My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines” was probably Frost’s highest moment—-exactly the tone, the imagery, the everything, that American  poetry was looking for at that moment in history.

Blake’s poem is darker, more cunning, but Frost’s insouciant masterpiece strikes a blow for Modernism against Romanticism’s emotionalism.

Still, this year’s Scarriet March Madness is a Romanticsm-themed tournament.

Blake 66 Frost 60

TWO BATTLES IN THE NORTH: FROST V. CAMPION, CATULLUS V. RIMBAUD!

Rimbaud: Goes Against Catullus in Round One

Robert Frost is the no. 2 seed in the North—right behind Goethe’s no. 1 seed, ‘The Holy Longing,” the Romantic tour de force by the German titan.  The famous Frost poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” is much beloved for its scenic beauty (yes, a few poems in just a few words manage that feat) with its clean, practical longing: “miles to go before I sleep.”

But look at this lesser-known poem, no. 15 “‘Follow Thy Fair Sun” by Thomas Campion, a 16th century poem which does battle against a 20th century one: a classic pre-Romantic versus post-Romantic battle, brought to you by Scarriet’s March Madness:

Follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow,
Though thou be black as night
And she made all of light,
Yet follow thy fair sun unhappy shadow.

Follow her whose light thy light depriveth,
Though here thou liv’st disgraced,
And she in heaven is placed,
Yet follow her whose light the world reviveth.

Follow those pure beams whose beauty burneth,
That so have scorched thee,
As thou still black must be,
Till Her kind beams thy black to brightness turneth.

Follow her while yet her glory shineth,
There comes a luckless night,
That will dim all her light,
And this the black unhappy shade divineth.

Follow still since so thy fates ordained,
The Sun must have his shade,
Till both at once do fade,
The Sun still proved, the shadow still disdained.

The trope is extremely simple: light and shade (“The Sun must have his shade”) with metaphysical, moral, romantic and metaphorical aspects attending its arc.  The whole thing is lovely to behold, even if every last nuance is not quite understood.

The advantage the Frost has is “Stopping by Woods” shows, where “Follow Thy Fair Sun” tells.  All great art, they say, shows rather than tells.  Yet the Campion tells with such charm!

In our second match-up today, the no. 3 seed “Lesbia, Let’s Live Only For Love” by the Roman poet Catullus contends with “Lines” by the decadent, 19th century French poet, Rimbaud.  If Catullus is Romanticism’s passionate root, Rimbaud is perhaps its rotten fruit.

The translation of Catullus is a Scarriet original, published for the first time on Scarriet:

Lesbia, let’s live only for love
And not give a crap
For jealous, old lips that flap.
The sun, when it goes down
Comes back around,
But, you know, when we go down, that’s it.
Give me a thousand kisses, one hundred
Kisses, a thousand, a hundred,
Let’s not stop, even during our extra hundred,
Thousands and thousands of kisses our debt,
But let’s not tell that to anybody yet.
This business will make us rich: kisses.

Old poems can get right to the point in a manner that today would feel too embarrassing.  This is because invention demands ever more novelty, ever more variety and nuance, and the more contemporary must feed this requirement more, even if it means we  never get straight to the point again.

The Rimbaud, written nearly two thousand years later, writhes in its nuances for the acute sensitivity of a jaded reader:

When the world is no more than a lone dark wood before our four astonished eyes—a beach for two faithful children–a musical house for our bright liking—I will find you.
Even if only one old man remains, peaceful and beautiful, steeped in “unbelievable luxury”—I’ll be at your feet.
Even if I create all of your memories—even if I know how to control you—I’ll suffocate you.

When we are strong—who retreats? When happy, who feels ridiculous? When cruel, what could be done with us?
Dress up, dance, laugh. —I could never toss Love out the window.

My consumption, my beggar, my monstrous girl! You care so little about these miserable women, their schemes—my discomfort. Seize us with your unearthly voice! Your voice: the only antidote to this vile despair.

We can get lost in the Rimbaud, a truly ‘modern’ poem: it does not march in a simple structure from A to B.  Rimbaud’s ‘art’ is looser, but that looseness allows so much to be added!  Yet since poetry is a temporal art, even loose poems have a beginning (A) and an end (B).  We have to think Rimbaud is concluding with “voice” for a reason—the “voice” that saves us, the “voice” that is “unearthly” does not care for “schemes;” it is the expression of something unplanned, indifferent and apart.  Heated and loose, the Rimbaud finally seeks a cold expression.

The Catullus really has a similar attitude: honest, crass, and heated as it ultimately loses itself in the coldness of mathematics.  Rimbaud and Catullus are as similar as two peas in a pod, separated by two thousand years.

Frost and Catullus advance.

Frost 67 Campion 58

Catullus 60 Rimbaud 59

MASS POETRY FESTIVAL AT SALEM APRIL 20-22 (PART TWO)

victoria station

Victoria Station in Salem, MA, where the Slam Poetry evening of the Festival took place.

We could not resist the Saturday morning panel entitled “Amy Lowell and Robert Frost Started It,” and so we went.

“It” turned out to be the New England Poetry Club—formerly the Harvard Poetry Society.

The first panelist to speak was a lady director of that venerable club, who read “Patterns” by Amy Lowell, the poet’s most anthologized piece, with its anti-war ending.  It’s a rather long poem, was not read particularly well, and most of us know this poem, anyway.  But it was read.  It is a good poem, and we enjoyed it.  The lady director also felt compelled to read Pound’s awful “Metro” poem—which works neither as haiku, nor as whatever lame substitute it’s attempting to be.  Accepting Pound’s wretched poem as some kind of significant marker begins the slippery slope in western poetry to inferiority masked as progress.  Every time someone praises that piece, a skylark dies, another Keats is killed, a star somewhere goes out.

The New England Poetry Club lady dispersed a few facts: the president of Harvard was Amy Lowell’s brother, and thus the Harvard Poetry Society was born—as an Imagist club, since Imagism appealed to Amy Lowell, (as did Orientalism to all the idle rich in those days.)   Lowell’s quarrel with Pound was skipped over, as was the contemporary haiku/orientalism rage which fed Imagism.

Fred Marchant, the second speaker, picked up on the anti-war theme and treated us to Conrad Aiken’s “Trenches: 1915,” an uncollected poem—too long—detailing the lengthy horrors of trench warfare.  Aiken’s father shot his mother and then shot himself when Aiken was a boy, right outside the poor lad’s bedroom, and this tragedy was used as a centerpiece in Marchant’s presentation of Aiken’s poem—which, it turned out, was imagined, because Aiken never fought in WW I.   Marchant rambled on about how Aiken knew T.S. Eliot; the Selective Service Act of 1917; yellow journalism—his presentation never came into focus.  Aiken, with Frost and Lowell, had been a co-founder of the Club.

Next up on the panel was the jolly, side-burned, X. J. Kennedy, who is best known for light verse, and he was a breath of fresh air, dispensing with all attempts to present The New England Poetry Club in some solemn anti-war light.  F.D. Reeve, (the father of the superman actor) who was Robert Frost’s translator on the latter’s trip to Moscow, was unfortunately unable to attend “They Started It” and Kennedy began by bemoaning this fact.  Then he joked that on the 100th anniversary of both the Titanic sinking and Fenway Park, that the Red Sox (who had been losing) and the Titanic were “both at the bottom.”  Kennedy reached for another anniversary: he had the New England Poetry Club officially at 97 years, but he figured it was about 100 years ago that the Club’s genesis began.

Kennedy’s focus was on Frost, who was “not a joiner,” but managed to be elected Vice-president of the Club in 1917 and President in 1919, without attending a meeting.  Frost, Kennedy, said, was “anti-clique,” and had little patience for Pound and his cliques; Frost preferred to “get outside the clique and appeal to the ordinary reader.”  A concept rather foreign to the pretentiousness of obscurantist modernist poetry.  Pound’s so-called Imagism was just an obvious rip-off of another culture’s then popular-in-the-west-movement: haiku and orientalism, generally.  Frost didn’t have to be part of some manufactured movement to make a name for himself.

X.J. Kennedy, just by his voice and demeanor, was clearly the literary lion in the room; one could tell he was no lackey imposter, no myopic scholar, that poetry burned in his soul—if by nothing else, one could tell by the perfect timing he used in his jokey anecdotes: apparently at a Frost reading, an angry woman, wanting Frost to be a true legislator of humanity, asked Frost whether he really cared about rhyme and spondees and trochees and the various techniques of verse. Frost looked at the woman for a moment and then said, gruffly: “I revel in it!”

X. J. Kennedy was his own thesis—whatever he uttered was interesting, whether it was exclaiming about a great rhyme in a poem (“suffice” at the end of Frost’s “Fire and Ice”), listing the “witty poets of New England: Dickinson, Updike, John Holmes…” or quoting the poet and Harvard fundraiser, David McCord, “By and by,/God caught his eye” (“The Waiter”).  Kennedy joked that “The Waiter” was considered at times to be by ‘anonymous,’ the greatest tribute to a living poet.

When X.J. Kennedy tells anecdotes of some poet ‘not selling,’ it’s funny, not a tragedy.  The true spirit of poetry lights up this gentleman.

The irony of this presentation, finally, as it relates to the New England Poetry Club, was the simple attempt to play the anti-war card by the first two presenters: the original Harvard Poetry Society sprang from Imagism; Pound and T.E. Hulme and Richard Aldington and Ford Madox Ford’s Imagism clique in England was anything but anti-war.  Of course, these matters were well beyond the scope of the one-hour panel.  Modernism is not examined anymore—it’s become a white-washed backdrop.  We were just hoping for a little more insight from one of the few panels at the Poetry Festival which advertised some intellectual weight—and not just mindless cheerleading.

That night, at a local restaurant and bar, we caught the Slam Poetry presentation, and aside from the fact that poor acoustics made it impossible to hear some poets, we came away with the following observations;

1. As our 10 year old daughter remarked, “It sounds like comedy, not poetry.”

2. Slam poetry means every type of expression of bad taste and imaginative vulgarity is permissable: every metaphoric combination of nature, society, nerdiness, sex, and bodily function oozes forth from the egotistical show-off at the microphone, every rant and gripe, every filthy, adolescent boast, pours forth.

3. The occasional example of wit and elegance is drowned out by the general tastelessness of the Slam.  The soul of poetry hasn’t got a chance.

As if American culture were not vulgar enough.

The irony here is that poetry, divine poetry, exists to elevate the soul above vulgarity and bad taste; Slam Poetry is not only not poetry, it’s anti-poetry.  Slam Poetry hurts poetry; Slam Poetry is poetry whored out.

The Sunday afternoon Headline Reading featured Frank Bidart reading his long poem, “Ellen West,” which just happened to be his 2012 Scarriet March Madness Tournament entry.  “Ellen West” is based on a case study of a woman with an eating disorder who kills herself.  Bidart belongs to the academic scene, not the Slam, but it seems Slam taste rules academia more than many would like to admit.  What happens to the practice of an art when the line between vulgar interest and art no longer exists?

Also on Sunday, in the atrium of the Peabody Essex museum, we caught a presentation called “Bad Poetry Contest,” which was bad for many reasons, the chief being that so much bad poetry is called good these days that no one knows what “bad poetry” is anymore.  The author who hosted this travesty spent a great deal of time reading from his own published book—of his own bad poetry; a bad poet to begin with, he is marketing his own rejects—which seems to us very telling.

SCARRIET’S BEST POEMS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

New York City Times Square Black and White Photograph by Christopher Arndt

Here, in no particular order, are Scarriet’s best poems (in English) of the 20th century.

Obviously not definitive.  Just things we noticed.

Why these poems?

Because they hide from nothing, and all, on some level, break your heart.  Poe was right when he said poetry appeals to the heart and not the head.  Because many heads get this wrong, and think poetry is some kind of mental exercise, the universe has been turned upside-down for the last three-quarters of a century by a certain never-resting snobbery infesting perches in the taste-making branches of higher learning.  The poems on this list don’t get lost in minutiae,  have no interest in proving how smart, or intellectual, or street they are.  They all aim for that middle ground which has intercourse with the earthy and the abstract, filtering each, as they combine nature with nature to make art.

If art is what we do to become gods, if art is what we consciously do, we don’t see why art should express the suicidal, or make us miserable, or express the ugly, or the random.  Certainly melancholy approaching pain is allowed, but misery?

The usual coteries, which have slathered their cliquish influence over American Letters, are notably absent.   Our list reflects poetic talent, whether or not it happened, or happens, to reside within machinations of puffery. Some poets may be puffed, but not all the puffed are poets.

The Vanity of the Blue Girls -John Crowe Ransom
The People Next Door -Louis Simpson
litany  -Carolyn Creedon
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening  -Robert Frost
Recuerdo  -Edna Millay
When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone  -Galway Kinnell
Sailing To Byzantium  -William Yeats
Dirge Without Music  -Edna Millay
The Groundhog  -Richard Eberhart
Musee Des Beaux Arts  -W.H. Auden
Elegy for Jane  -Theodore Roethke
I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great  -Stephen Spender
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night  -Dylan Thomas
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  -T.S. Eliot
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner  -Randall Jarrell
In California During the Gulf War  -Denise Levertov
Wild Peaches  -Elinor Wylie
Moriturus  -Edna Millay
Whitsun Weddings  -Philip Larkin
A Subaltern’s Love Song  -John Betjeman
Aubade  -Philip Larkin
Patterns  -Amy Lowell
A Supermarket in California  -Allen Ginsberg
Her Kind  -Anne Sexton
Not Waving,  But Drowning  -Stevie Smith
i stopped writing poetry  -Bernard Welt
Dream On  -James Tate
Pipefitter’s Wife  -Dorianne Laux
On the Death of Friends In Childhood  -Donald Justice
Daddy  -Sylvia Plath
Resume’  -Dorothy Parker
Time Does Not Bring Relief  -Edna Millay
If I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual Way  -Edna Millay
Evening in the Sanitarium  -Louise Bogan
At Mornington  -Gwen Harwood
Those Sunday Mornings  -Robert Hayden
Psalm and Lament  -Donald Justice
The Ship of Death  -D.H. Lawrence
One Train May Hide Another  -Kenneth Koch
Encounter  -Czeslaw Milosz
Anthem For Doomed Youth  -Wilfred Owen
The Little Box  -Vasko Popa
For My Daughter  -Weldon Kees
The Golden Gate  -Vikram Seth
The Grass  -Carl Sandburg
Mending Wall  -Robert Frost
Peter Quince at the Clavier  -Wallace Stevens
The Fresh Start  -Anna Wickham
Bavarian Gentians  -D.H. Lawrence
River Roses  -D.H. Lawrence
The Hill  -Rupert Brooke
La Figlia Che Piange  -T.S. Eliot
“Not Marble nor the Gilded Monuments” -Archibald MacLeish
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why  -Edna Millay
What They Wanted  -Stephen Dunn
Down, Wanton, Down!  -Robert Graves
Cross  -Langston Hughes
As I Walked Out One Evening  -W.H. Auden
Love on the Farm  -D.H. Lawrence
Who’s Who  -W.H. Auden
The Waste Land  -T.S. Eliot
Snake  -D.H. Lawrence
At the Fishhouses  -Elizabeth Bishop
And Death Shall Have No Dominion  -Dylan Thomas
Reasons for Attendance  -Philip Larkin
Fern Hill  -Dylan Thomas
Distance From Loved Ones  -James Tate
The Hospital Window  -James Dickey
An Arundel Tomb  -Philip Larkin
My Father in the Night Commanding No  -Louis Simpson
I Know A Man  -Robert Creeley
High Windows  -Philip Larkin
The Explosion  -Philip Larkin
You Can Have It  -Philip Levine
Diving Into the Wreck  -Adrienne Rich
Pike  -Ted Hughes
Pleasure Bay  -Robert Pinsky
The Colonel  -Carolyn Forche
Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey  -Billy Collins
The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite  -William Kulik
The Year  -Janet Bowdan
How I Got That Name  -Marilyn Chin
Amphibious Crocodile  -John Crowe Ransom
The Mediterranean  -Allen Tate
To A Face In A Crowd  -Robert Penn Warren
Utterance  -Donald Davidson
The Ballad of Billie Potts  -Robert Penn Warren
Preludes  -T.S. Eliot
Sweeney among the Nightingales  -T.S. Eliot
Journey of the Magi  -T.S. Eliot
The Veiled Lady  -Maura Stanton
Prophecy  -Donald Hall
Archaic Torso of Apollo  -Rainer Maria Rilke
Of Poor B.B.  -Bertolt Brecht
Women  -Louise Bogan
Bored  –Margaret Atwood
A Happy Thought  -Franz Wright
The Idea of Ancestry -Etheridge Knight
Smiling Through  -Reed Whittemore
Histoire  -Harry Mathews
The Request  -Sharon Olds

A WORDY BORDER

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus looms over the Modernist School

A poem is a philosophical song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gaudy, gusty panoply…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SCARRIET 2011 FINAL FOUR

Poetic reputation: do we want to know how the sausage gets made?

Last year, the Scarriet Final Four, using David Lehman’s Best American Poetry volumes 1988 through 2009, was “That’s Not Butter” by Reb Livingston, “Composed Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey” by Billy Collins, “The Year” by Janet Bowdan, and “The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite” by William Kulik.

This year, using Berg and Vogelsang’s American Poetry Review’s anthology, The Body Electric, we got “Aubade” by Philip Larkin, “litany” by Carolyn Creedon, “Eileen’s Vision” by Eileen Myles, and “What They Wanted” by Stephen Dunn.  How the Brit Larkin slipped in, we’re not sure, but he was included in the APR, and won his games fair and square to advance to the Final Four.  Creedon, Dunn, and Myles are not exactly household words.

Last week Jeopardy! had an American Poetry category: Ogden Nash, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Wallace Stevens, and Allen Ginsberg were the five answers: Stevens‘ most famous poem, “The Emperor of Icecream,” drew a blank, as did Ginsberg and Hughes; only Frost and Nash were recognized by one of the three Jeopardy! contestants.

As we have watched a field of 64 get reduced to four, and then one, for two years now, we wonder if Scarriet’s March Madness Tourney is the only such competition in the world.

There are many who sneer at poetry and competition.  But look, when a poet wins a major prize today, when a poet wins recognition, should we really be so naive or hypocritical in convincing ourselves that the renown of someone like John Ashbery is not the result of poems and poets competing against each other?

And if not, what the hell is it?

What pushes someone like Ashbery to the top?

I ask this, because to win a March Madness Tournament, you have to have a poem entered that’s good enough to beat other poems, in match-up after match-up, and I don’t know that Ashbery has one poem that has that ‘breakthrough’ quality to win against “litany” by Carolyn Creedon, for instance.  Ashbery’s poems all read like clever jokes, and such poems don’t tend to win against the really accomplished poem of poignancy and beauty. I doubt an Ashbery poem could go very far in a March Madness Tournament, under the scrutiny of refs and rabid fans.

Ashbery defeated O’Hara for the Yale Younger Poetry Prize—one judge, Auden, played his own “March Madness Tournament,” after smoking a few hundred cigarettes, and Ashbery won that Tournament.   From a just issued review:

Wasley’s book [The Age of Auden: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene, Princeton U. Press] vividly catalogues Auden’s social connections, friendships and influence among East Coast, Ivy League-educated, formal, emerging poets. Ginsberg and Ashbery wrote college essays on Auden; the pre-Ted Hughes Sylvia Plath adored Auden’s “burlap-textured voice”. We’re taken to parties and table talk, and to theatres where Auden explains a play’s reference to the entire mezzanine: “Shelley, my dears!” Still, must we learn who drilled the peephole to the toilet? Who looked?

This lineage study is redolent of smoking-jacket, anecdote and club. Auden dislikes the Yale Younger Poets submissions; he asks Ashbery and Frank O’Hara for manuscripts (or Chester Kallman, Auden’s lover, does); Ashbery’s poems are selected. Nowadays, if a public university manages its competitions this way, it will be exposed and condemned (as in the case of the University of Georgia Contemporary Poetry Series). Nearly everyone – poets, critics, even Wasley’s back-cover blurbers – is from the universities of Harvard, Yale, Columbia or Princeton.

Did you catch that?  Both Ashbery (Harvard) and Ginsberg (Columbia) wrote Ivy League college essays on Auden.

Iowa wasn’t the only place where the U.S. Poetry Workshop formula was being pushed in the 1940s; Allen Tate, one of the leading figures in the Anglo-American Modernist Clique—which got its ultimate marching orders from Pound and Eliot—started the ball rolling at Princeton, and Auden was Eliot’s chosen trans-Atlantic successor.

Maybe Chester Kallman ran into Frank O’Hara, or John Ashbery, or Allen Ginsberg in a men’s room, and the rest is history?

Anyway, the point is, there’s always going to be competition—winners and losers—and to pretend this is not the situation, is silly.  To pretend ignorance only make the “winning” that much more dubious, and perhaps, unfair.

Note, also, how the work of Foetry.com (which exposed the U.GA Poetry Series when Alan Cordle caught Bin Ramke cheating) is now part of the normal poetry dialogue these days.  We hope you caught that, too.

Everyone in their hearts knows there are winners and losers in poetry; the question is, do we have the courage to make the process as transparent as possible?

CAN ANYONE STOP THE LONDON ELIOTS?

Was April T.S. Eliot’s cruelest month?

On April 30, Ron Silliman (6-4) pitched the New Jersey Williams to a 3-1 victory over London, dropping the Eliots to 12-9.  At the time, it looked like April had been good for Thomas Stearns Eliot, for 12-9 is not a shabby mark (.571).

On May 1, Matthew Arnold (who had just been signed) threw a complete game shutout against New Jersey. In May and June London is 38-13, a .745 winning percentage.   The Eliots are 11-1 against the Williams this year.

Who can stop these guys?  London leads the Scarriet AL with 50 wins and 22 losses.  The next best record in Scarriet Poetry Baseball 2010 belongs to the New England Frost, second in the AL at 42-30.  The Philadelphia Poe owns a slim lead in the NL with a 41-31 showing.

The Eliots have won 18 of their last 22 games with a microscopic team ERA of 1.73 during that span.  The Frost, who added Jesus Christ (4-0) to their pitching staff, are 15-7 in their last 22 games, with a slightly better ERA than the Eliots in those 22 games, and yet London has increased their lead over the Frost from 5 to 8 games, thanks to London’s current incredible run.

The Eliots pitching staff: Bertrand Russell 11-3, James Frazier 11-3, Tristan  Corbiere 8-3, Winston Churchill 8-2, and Matthew Arnold 5-5 (with 2 shutouts).  Sir Edward Howard Marsh is 2-0 in relief.

Lady Ottoline Morrell is batting almost .400 from the leadoff spot, while Arthur Symons, John Donne and Aldous Huxley are providing the power.

But it’s been the pitching and defense which has been miraculous.

Vivienne Haigh-Wood is playing well at second, providing excellent double-play defense with shortstop Rudyard Kipling.

“I’m proud of my team, ” Eliot said yesterday.  “It is a long summer, though, and anything can happen.”

FROST GETS JESUS!

In a move sure to turn the Scarriet Baseball Poetry League world on its ear, the New England Frost announced today that it has signed Jesus Christ.

They got together in a room, Frost read Christ “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” and it just blew Him away.  Christ has agreed to pitch for the New England Frost, currently in third place in the American League, behind the London Eliots and the Amherst Emily.

Jesus really got along with Mr. Frost,” a spokesman for the New England ballclub said, “Christ isn’t asking for any money.  He just wants to do this.”

Frost has always admired the Sermon on the Mount.  Frost certainly has the conservative credentials to pull something like this off.

But, more to the point, will Christ help Frost’s ballclub?

Absolutely.

Christ has a fastball clocked near 100, and He has a pretty good curve to go with it.

New England Frost fans were ecstatic.

One sampling from a young wag: “I always thought we were a good team, but now I’m sure we can win it all!”

Frost’s starting five is currently Louis Untermeyer (5-6), Carl Sandburg (6-4), E.A. Robinson (4-5), Anne Sexton (4-3) and Bobby Burns (6-2).   Christ will probably step in for former ace Untermeyer, anthologist and Frost friend who has been less than sharp lately.

Francis Palgrave has recently joined the Frost, as has Omar Khayyam, Seigfried Sassoon, Maxine Kumin, Bernard de Voto, James Wright, and son Franz.

The New England Frost are certainly poised to make a run for the pennant this summer.

You can say that, again!

Meanwhile, over in the Scarriet National League, talks between the Philadelphia Poe and Socrates are said to be showing signs of progress towards a crucial deal, with the ancient philosopher (and starting pitcher) almost convinced that Poe is more scientist than rhapsode.  Socrates has looked over Poe’s work and is said to like what he sees.

Meanwhile, the two hottest teams in Scarriet’s Baseball Poetry League are the London Eliots in the AL, and the NL’s Brooklyn Ashberys.

Amen!  Play ball!

WALLACE STEVENS IS VERY, VERY HAPPY

Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens.  Frost is currently third in the AL race.

The surprising Hartford Stevens have won 5 straight and have the best record in the Baseball Scarriet American League.

Led by hurlers George Santayana (5-0) and Helen Vendler (4-1) and the bats of Valery, Mallarme, John Hollander, and James Merrill, Wallace Stevens is sitting pretty with a 14-6 record.  No team in the 2010 Scarriet Poetry Baseball League has more wins than Hartford. (AL)  The Whittiers play for Hartford in the NL.

Since losing 8-3 to Scofield Thayer, starting pitcher for the Cambridge Cummings, the Stevens have outscored their opponents 31-9.

We caught up with Hartford owner/manager Wallace Stevens and asked him a few questions in his Hartford home:

Scarriet:  So how does it feel to own a baseball team?

Stevens:  I like baseball.  It’s gentle… compared to some of the… other sports.

Scarriet:  Are you surprised by your team’s early success?

Stevens:  Well, my old teacher (at Harvard), George Santayana (Hartford’s ace pitcher) told me if that if I could sign Helen (Vendler) and Marjorie (Perloff) to our starting rotation and fill the roster with people like Lewis Carroll and Paul Valery and MallarmeSatie, the musician…that we could probably beat anybody…

Scarriet:  So never underestimate intelligence and charm?

Stevens:  (Laughing) That’s right.   We don’t have a lot of real big names, like Keats…Shakespeare… Dante and Horace…but our team does have a lot of great, great talent.

Scarriet:  Did you hear that Mr. Cummings just signed Freud and Darwin?

Stevens:   I heard that was in the works.  Did he sign them?  Really?  That’s extraordinary.

Scarriet:  Well, let’s talk more about your team. Did you expect John Hollander and James Merrill to hit like they have?

Stevens:  Oh, well, the Americans on this club really get along with the Europeans…it’s a very happy bunch…we just signed Toulouse Lautrec, and he was making everyone laugh in the clubhouse yesterday…we’re having fun…I’m really having fun.

Scarriet:  That helps you win?

Stevens:  Oh, yes, absolutely.

Scarriet:  What if Vendler had decided to play with the Iowa City Grahams instead of your ballclub?

Stevens:  I didn’t have to convince Helen to play for me.  She practically begged!   She didn’t have to, of course…I adore Helen.   She was the first name that came up when George (Santayana) and I talked about putting together our team.

Scarriet:  She’s pitching today.  Are you excited?

Stevens:  It’s a thrill to watch Helen pitch.  I’m very excited.

Interview by Marla Muse

SCARRIET PRESENTS NATIONAL ‘POETRY BASEBALL’ MONTH

Hell, let’s play a whole season. 

Here are the teams.  They play in little bucolic ballparks.  No DH.

National League

Philadelphia Poe
New York Bryants
Hartford Greenleaf Whittiers
Cambridge Longfellows
Boston Lowells
Concord Emersons
Brooklyn Ashberys
New Jersey Ginsbergs
Tennessee Ransoms
Maine Millays

American League

Brooklyn Whitmans
New England Frost
London Eliots
Rapallo Pound
New Jersey Williams
Hartford Stevens
New York Moores
Cambridge Cummings
Amherst Emily
Iowa City Grahams

Baseball Poetry Commissioner: the honorable Harold Bloom
Player Union Rep:  Camille Paglia

There are still some hold-outs, most notably W.H. Auden from the Ashberys. 

Scouting Report Highlights:

NL

The brawling Philadelphia Poe features Lord Byron in the clean-up spot and Alexander Pope does mound duties as the ace of a pitching staff not afraid to throw inside.

The elegant New York  Bryants have Abraham Lincoln as their chief twirler and the slugging Thomas Cole hitting no. 4 in a highly distinguished lineup.

The Hartford Greenleaf Whittiers bring William Lloyd Garrison as their ace and Charles Dickens just signed up to play centerfield.

The Cambridge Longfellows have Washington Irving roaming center and Dante and Horace as mound aces.

The Boston Lowells field Mark Twain at short, Robert Browning in left, and Charles Eliot Norton and Leigh Hunt as their dominant hurlers.

Beware the Concord EmersonsWilliam James is their ace, Swedenborg bashes from the cleanup spot, and Thoreau tends centerfield.

The Brooklyn Ashberys have Frank O’Hara leading off and Andy Warhol is their ace.   Kenneth Koch and James Tate anchor the infield, while Charles Bernstein is in the bullpen.

The Ginsbergs of New Jersey have William Blake slugging from the No. 4 hole, Charles Bukowski and Bob Dylan as their double play combination and Mark Van Doren and William Burroughs on the mound.

The Tennessee Ransoms have Allen Tate at catcher and Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, I.A. Richards, and Paul Engle on the hill.

Rounding out the National League, we have the Maine Millays with Edmund Wilson and Philip Sidney pitching, with Sappho out in center.

AL

The Brooklyn Whitmans have Oscar Wilde and F.O. Matthiessen as no. 1 and no. 2 starters, with Lawrence Fernlinghetti, C.K. Williams and William Michael Rossetti providing up-the-middle defense at second, short, and center.

The New England Frost have William Wordsworth in the clean-up spot with Louis Untermeyer as their no. 1 hurler.

The London Eliots have Bertrand Russell and Lady Ottoline Morrell on the mound with Tristan Corbiere at first, Jules LaForgue at third, and Arthur Symons behind the plate.

The Rapallo Pound are stocked, with Benito Mussollini in right, Hugh Kenner on the mound and Ernest Fenollosa at shortstop.  Negotiations are continuing with Joyce, Yeats, and Duchamp.

The New Jersey Williams have Man Ray as their ace and Robert Creeley in the lead-off spot.  They also want Duchamp.

The Hartford Stevens have pitching depth with George Santayana, Helen Vendler, and  John Hollander.  James Merrill is in the clean-up spot.

The New York Moores have Elizabeth Bishop at the top of the lineup and Pater in the bullpen.  Ted Hughes is their big slugger.

The Cambridge Cummings have Picasso batting no. 3 and Scofield Thayer and T.E. Hulme anchoring the pitching staff.

The Amherst Emily has Thomas Wentworth Higginson as their pitching ace with Alfred Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Barrett in the outfield.

Finally, the Iowa City Grahams have Bin Ramke and Peter Sacks as key pitchers and James Galvin powering the middle of the lineup.

Stay tuned for complete team rosters.

We’ll give you updates during the season…every trade, every management dispute… individual stats, stat leaders, and team standings as the season progresses.

POETRY IS A RELIGIOUS WAR, ALWAYS WAS, AND STILL IS

I heard this!

THE GREAT UNSPOKEN TRUTH of poetry is that it is and always has been a football or a sweaty microphone in the politics of religion.

Poetry has never been poetry.

Poetry has always been Gilgamesh or Homer, the Bible or the Koran. Alexander Pope, John Keats, Hitler or Gertrude Stein.

Poetry has always been news reports from mankind’s long religious war.

Shakespeare, the subversive Catholic, Milton the Protestant secretary, the pagan revolt of the Romantics, the secular intellectualism of the 20th century, it can all be traced to religious war.

Strands of poetry today represent splinter groups: nature religion, bad grammar religion, anti-religion religion (an impossibility), sex religion, the religion of humor, and it is probably this splintering, more than anything else, that has made poetry a current historical footnote.  (“Why doesn’t anyone take poetry seriously these days?”)

Just as cults are dwarfed by the major religions, poetry that is splintered and cult-like in its concerns tends to fall by the wayside.

Religion always makes big news and always resides in private and intimate spaces as well, and so when a poet does make headlines, they tend to do so from a religious point of view, and they also tend to get swallowed up if their ‘religion’ is of the shallow and cult-like variety: prominent, but obviously aping what is already out there: Ginsberg, for instance (60’s radical rebellion) or Mary Oliver (nature religion).

A poet writing today is not just competing with all the poetry of the past, but with all religion, as well.

Robert Frost is probably the last poet to succeed as ‘a poet’ rather than as some minor priest in the religious war, and this was probably due to the fact that his poetry acheived that rare balance; his poetry was not challenging religious principles at all, and yet seemed vaguely religious at the same time, in a manner that neither religious nor secular types could quite put their finger on—and thus his success.   Frost didn’t make the Church nervous, didn’t make churches nervous, didn’t make Church-haters nervous, or church-haters nervous; Frost was writing stuff in which all could say, “Poetry, OK.  I can live with this.”  Easy to formulate, but not easy to pull off.

Most of this ‘New England success’ was due to historical placement more than Frost’s blockbuster talent; Frost wrote in an age of great change, and he managed to evoke timelessness with his New England winter toughness at a time when New England could still symbolize America (now it can’t).

The heroic grandiosity of the World War Two era also created a window in which America was allowed ‘one great poet’ (Frost) for awhile.

Now we’ve entered an age of great religious and political suspicion, an age no longer distracted by something as heroic and unifying as World War Two; in this splintered religious time, poetry is naturally splintered, too.

Poetry cannot lead, it can only reflect and follow, the religious climate of its time.

The last great religious poem was probably ‘Ode To Psyche’ by Keats.  (Or anti-religious, but so completely and beautifully so, religious, for all intents and purposes).

Since Keats, poetry has, to an increasing extent, dwelled like small mammals living a hidden, furtive life, dwarfed by a world in which major religions rule, as they always have, close-to-the-ground, influential, terrifying and banal.

What is left to us? What can we write or do?

HOW MANY KINDS OF POETRY ARE THERE?

First and foremost, there is this kind:

(found on the internet)

Twas the night of Thanksgiving and out of the house
Tiger Woods came a flyin’, chased by his spouse.
She wielded a nine iron and wasn’t too merry,
Cause a bimbo’s phone number was in his Blackberry.
He’d been cheatin’ on Elin, and the story progressed.
Woman after woman stepped up and confessed.
He’d been cheatin’ with Holly, and Jaimee, and Cori,
With Joselyn, and Kalika. The world had the story.
From the top of the Tour to the basement of blues,
Tiger’s sad sordid tale was all over the news.
With hostesses, waitresses, he had lots of sex,
When not in their pants, he was sendin’ them texts.
Despite all his cryin’ and beggin’ and pleadin’,
Tiger’s wife went investin’ — a new home in Sweden .
And I heard her exclaim from her white Escalade,
“If you’re gettin’ laid then I’m gettin’ paid.”
She’s not pouting, in fact, she is of jolly good cheer,
Her prenup made Christmas come early this year.

…………………………………………………….Anonymous

 

Next in level of popularity, there is this:

THE DEATH OF THE OLD YEAR

Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing:
Toll ye the church bell sad and slow,
And tread softly and speak low,
For the old year lies a-dying.
Old year you must not die;
You came to us so readily,
You lived with us so steadily,
Old year you shall not die.

He lieth still: he doth not move:
He will not see the dawn of day.
He hath no other life above.
He gave me a friend and a true truelove
And the New-year will take ’em away.
Old year you must not go;
So long you have been with us,
Such joy as you have seen with us,
Old year, you shall not go.

He froth’d his bumpers to the brim;
A jollier year we shall not see.
But tho’ his eyes are waxing dim,
And tho’ his foes speak ill of him,
He was a friend to me.
Old year, you shall not die;
We did so laugh and cry with you,
I’ve half a mind to die with you,
Old year, if you must die.

He was full of joke and jest,
But all his merry quips are o’er.
To see him die across the waste
His son and heir doth ride post-haste,
But he’ll be dead before.
Every one for his own.
The night is starry and cold, my friend,
And the New-year blithe and bold, my friend,
Comes up to take his own.

How hard he breathes! over the snow
I heard just now the crowing cock.
The shadows flicker to and fro:
The cricket chirps: the light burns low:
‘Tis nearly twelve o’clock.
Shake hands, before you die.
Old year, we’ll dearly rue for you:
What is it we can do for you?
Speak out before you die.

His face is growing sharp and thin.
Alack! our friend is gone,
Close up his eyes: tie up his chin:
Step from the corpse, and let him in
That standeth there alone,
And waiteth at the door.
There’s a new foot on the floor, my friend,
And a new face at the door, my friend,
A new face at the door.

……………………………………Tennyson

The two most popular versions of poetry, then, are poems of Humor and Elegy.   The anonymous joke-poem now popular on the internet appeals to the spirit of satire and fun.

The 19th century boasts triumphs of melancholy and sadness, like “The Raven,” a poem which itself was quickly satirized.

Is it an accident that the two most popular versions are two defining moods on opposite ends of the human emotional scale: jest and buffoonery on one hand, quiet, dignified sorrow on the other?

The next level of popularity are probably the twin types of Wisdom and Love.

Poems with a simple, yet philosophical message tend to be sonnet-length;  Shakespeare’s sonnets can be found in this category, and, most recently, perhaps, Frost’s famous “The Road Not Taken.”

Poems of “wisdom” have been on the wane these last 50 years, or at least successful ones of this type, as anything resembling the didactic has been banned by the sophisticated indirectness currently fashionable.

“Do Not Go Gentle” is more a pleading than a piece of advice, but more recently the wisdom bird has been spotted in the poetry of Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, for instance.  This may be the essence of both these poets’ appeal: plain-spoken wisdom.  So perhaps this class of poem has not disappeared, after all.

The Love poem, like the Wisdom poem, seems to have declined among the critically acclaimed in the modern, and especially post-modern eras.   You just don’t find MFA grads expressing “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways” sentiments in poetry.

From Petrarch through Auden, love was nearly the sole subject of the lyric.  In poetry today, how far has love fallen?  Opening at random one of those big anthologies, I find this ‘Song’ from Thomas Stanley (d. 1678), and here are the first two of its five stanzas:

I prithee let my heart alone,
Since now ’tis raised above thee,
Not all the beauty thou dost own,
Again can make me love thee;
 
He that was shipwrecked once before
By such a siren’s call,
And yet neglects to shun that shore,
Deserves his second fall.
………………………………………Thomas Stanley

 How delightful that we get not only the Love poem, but a Wisdom poem, too.    This makes a kind of sense in the popularity scheme we are constructing, with Humor and Elegy on the top tier and Love and Wisdom existing together on the second.

Characteristics of the genres can certainly mingle, and many an ambitious bard has probably sought to conciously use Love and Wisdom and Humor and Elegy all in the same poem in order to produce a masterpiece of popularity: one comes to mind right away, in fact: Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress.”  It has the properties of all four, does it not?  It is elegaic: it mourns the swift passage of time; it is a love poem, certainly; it surely has an archness, which is a part of its appeal, and it contains a common-sense argument, as well, and thus is also a wisdom poem.  And as the centuries pass, “To His Coy Mistress” is moving up the ladder of most popular poem of all time.

Is it possible that contemporary poems do not stick in the mind for the simple reason that without one of these four types to guide it, Humor, Elegy, Wisdom, or Love, the popular taste feels immediately at sea, no matter how skilled the versifier?    Might this be some kind of natural law?

Let us, again, open another book at random, this time to a poem from a contemporary; here is the first stanza, from “Victim of Himself” by Marvin Bell:

He thought he saw a long way off the ocean
cresting and falling, bridging the continents,
carrying the whole sound of human laughter
and moans—especially moans, in the mud of misery—
but what he saw was already diluted, evaporating,
and what he felt were his teeth grinding
and the bubbles of saliva that broke on his tongue.

………………………………………………Marvin Bell

Bell is certainly no slouch as a poet, but reading this, why is it pretty certain this poem will never be popular?

.

THE GREATEST STANZA OF ALL TIME IS…

The stanza is the aria of poetry.  If the line zings, the stanza sings.  The stanza is poetry’s true voice, where the poet displays not just melody, but harmony, as well.

The stanza presents not just an image, but an image moving into another.

The stanza is the line out for a spin on the racetrack.

The stanza is the line on the dance floor, the line proposing marriage.

The stanza is the beginning, the middle and the end of the meal.

If a line is a puff, the stanza is the whole cigarette.

If the line skitters, the stanza is the release, the fall, and the landing.

The stanza is the full-length portrait of Painting, the torso of Sculpture, the pillar, the room, of Architecture.

We like poets of the line.  We study poets of the poem.  We  worship poets of the stanza.

Lines can be dropped into letters or conversations or prose.  Stanzas raise the curtain on the muses.

Lines are bites.  Stanzas are plans.

The art of the stanza takes many forms.  It can beat a folk tune in 4/4 time:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

………………………………Andrew Marvell

Or, it can sound almost symphonic:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

……………………………………………………..Edgar Allan Poe

The most remarkable stanzas have a unique design, and are more than simply couplets joined together.

The line exists as a unit of sound/meaning.

The stanza, though it has more parts, and can be pedantically categorized (tercet, quatrain, ballad stanza, Ottava Rima, Spenserian, etc) exists independently as a unit of sound/meaning, as well.

We might say that the “free verse” revolution of the 20th century was not so much a joyous act of freedom as it was an anxious flight from the stanza.

The poetic line did not become important in a vacuum; the shackles were real, and those shackles?

The stanza.

The sociological explanation invariably ignores this, equating ‘old’ poetry with ‘old’ times and ‘new’ or ‘modern’ poetry with ‘new’ or ‘modern’ times.  But this is to push history aside for a vain celebration of the present.

The ‘modern’ poets were not celebrating the ‘modern,’ for the poems never know if they are ‘modern,’ or not.  The poems only know what they are as poems, in terms of line and stanza.

A poem can never say it is modern in a way that history will be convinced.

In the middle of the 19th century, with the rise of prose fiction and prose journalism, poetry was poised to improve on the stanza.   Poe’s ‘Raven’ was a sensation as music, with its unique stanza.   Poe was once accused of stealing his stanza-idea from Coleridge, but Poe said in his defense that the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s” stanza was different in 19 ways, and—we doubt that anyone is surprised—Poe listed every one.

Poe understood (oh that rascal understood everything) that with the rise of prose (Poe was leading the charge with short fiction, essay, prose poem, science fiction and detective fiction) poetry had only technique to save it and the stanza was the key to poetic technique.

Poe saw the tidal wave of prose coming.

Some modern poets pondered protection in houses of stanza and thought, “No way.  This tidal wave’s too big.”

Many modern poets built their poems on sand, and others, rather than be drowned by prose, tried to breathe in prose.

The poets turned into fish.

And drowned anyway.

Is it surprising that the poets most popular in the 20th century, such as Dylan Thomas, Millay, Frost, and Plath, were adept at the stanza?

Millay’s marvelous sonnets—what are these but stanzas?

Plath’s “Daddy” has one of the most original and interesting stanza schemes ever produced.

POETRY BELONGS TO POETS, NOT INSTITUTIONS

Poetry should belong to poets, not institutions.

Trying to enrich poetry with endowments and gifts is pointless.

Poetry is not like a highway or a school; it doesn’t require funding like that.

Popular appeal is, we feel, an important resource, one which poets once used, but which has dried up due to institutional machinations.

Poetry in China was a required skill for government employees for years. But this was not some charity move to enhance poetry; poetry was seen as a legitimate part of a well-rounded person.

Poetry has historically been a subject in school, but not because efforts were being made to give poetry special protection; poetry, as it existed, was a worthy example for those studying language and history.

Now the cart is before the horse. Poetry does not drive human excellence as an independent force; it is a mere charity case.

Treated as a charity case, this is what it has, in fact, become.

It is precisely the idea that poetry needs special institutional support which prevents poetry from retaining its former glory, since the resource of popular appeal is barred from the poet unable to compete with institutional might.

We cannot get our minds around the fact that billions of dollars of institutional support for poetry has actually hurt poetry.

If you took all that money away, and allowed the poet who appeals to the people to triumph—just allow that process to play out—there’s no telling how much more important poetry would be to us as a culture. Were the muse permitted to be on its own and survive through poetry’s appeal to the public alone, there is no telling how this might enrich us as a people.

Let there be a genuinely popular poet, rather than ten thousand endowed poets, and let us see what follows. We don’t know what that poetry would look like in this scenario, because it hasn’t been allowed to exist. We’re not talking about a Robert Frost either, who was in some ways an institutional product, and somewhat popular as well. We’re talking about a Robert Frost x 100.

How would poetry flourish without any institutional support? Let’s see what poetry would look like, that in order to survive, must intoxicate the masses.

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