Hamill: No, it’s not basketball March Madness, it’s poetry March Madness…

Sam Hamill’s (10th seed, West) “What the Water Knows” is a poem Robert Bly or Gary Snyder probably wish they had written. It’s a hopeful lament set in nature, with an Eastern feel.

Stephen Dunn’s (7th seed, West) “What They Wanted” belongs to the Poignant Speech school of poetry.  Dunn is a prose poem virtuoso in the manner of Stephen Dobyns and James Tate.

Here’s Sam Hamill’s entry:

What the Water Knows

 What the mouth sings, the soul must learn to forgive.
A rat’s as moral as a monk in the eyes of the real world.
Still, the heart is a river
pouring from itself, a river that cannot be crossed.

It opens on a bay
and turns back upon itself as the tide comes in,
it carries the cry of the loon and the salts
of the unutterably human.

A distant eagle enters the mouth of a river
salmon no longer run and his wide wings glide
upstream until he disappears
into the nothing from which he came. Only the thought remains.

Lacking the eagle’s cunning or the wisdom of the sparrow,
where shall I turn, drowning in sorrow?
Who will know what the trees know, the spidery patience
of young maple or what the willows confess?

Let me be water. The heart pours out in waves.
Listen to what the water says.
Wind, be a friend.
There’s nothing I couldn’t forgive.

–Sam Hamill

Stephen Dunn had some victories last year in the BAP March Madness tournament. He’ll be a tough opponent.

What They Wanted
They wanted me to tell the truth,
so I said I’d lived among them,
a spy, for year,
but all that I wanted was love.
They said they couldn’t love a spy.
Couldn’t I tell them other truths?
I said I was emotionally bankrupt,
would turn any of them in for a kiss.
I told them how a kiss feels
when it’s especially undeserved;
I thought they’d understand.
They wanted me to say I was sorry,
so I told them I was sorry.
They didn’t like it that I laughed.
They asked what I’d seen them do,
and what I do with what I know.
I told them: find out who you are
before you die.
Tell us, they insisted, what you saw.
I saw the hawk kill a smaller bird.
I said life is one long leavetaking.
They wanted me to speak
like a journalist. I’ll try, I said.
I told them I could depict the end
of the world, and my hand wouldn’t tremble.
I said nothing’s serious except destruction.
They wanted to help me then.
They wanted me to share with them,
that was the word they used, share.
I said it’s bad taste
to want to agree with many people.
I told them I’ve tried to give
as often as I’ve betrayed.
They wanted to know my superiors,
to whom did I report?
I told them I accounted to no one,
that each of us is his own punishment.
If I love you, one of them cried out,
what would you give up?
There were others before you,
I wanted to say, and you’d be the one
before someone else.  Everything, I said.

–Stephen Dunn

MARLA MUSE:  I love both these poems.  I’m speechless. 
The John Crowe Ransom Arena, though, is full of noise.
MARLA MUSE: The Dunn poem gives me the chills.
Dunn scoring early and often…it’s Dunn over Hamill, 80-72.

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