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A devil is one who calls you a devil.

The last accuser becomes the accused.

Talk makes all guilt equal;

By language fact and falsehood are fused.

Book learning must step aside,

When the accuser behind intellectualism hides.

Poetry flees every single kind of talk—

Where reasonable talkers reasonably lie,

Where the accusers thrive and multiply;

Poetry is true because the words walk.

Poetry returns to pure physicality, where

Words, to prove their worth, walk up into the air,

Leaving falsehood below,

Where the eternal winds of accusations blow.






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Physical love is a difficult art.

The eye judges, and so does the heart.

To judge love, love considers a thousand things;

Throughout the valley, courtship whispers and runs and sings.

A nest for love must be prepared.

If physical love doesn’t happen, no one ever cared.

Shadows need to fall. You mustn’t see too much.

You must be sensitive—extremely sensitive to eye and touch.

Physical love is a cunning love; the greatest gods

Flew down from the sun in bright disguise

To plunder. Physical love fails if it needs surprise;

Violence ruins love, and if gods did, imagine these clods,

The mortals, and their harsh, bungling attempts to be

Lovers: Strong, yes, strong, but lacking sensitivity,

Lacking the lies that lie in the loveliest poetry.

Both lovers need to be physical, but love cannot

Be only physical. The cultivation of want is what

Must happen to the lovers; stupidity the tragic novel cannot

Invent, must happen. I’m exhausted. I cannot.




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The private self cannot be loved.

Celebrity love is really true.

Love is only a public love.

In private, she’s annoyed by you.

Everything offends

Our group, and its public membership never ends;

You thought, by stealing into this private cave

You would escape all the offended crave:

Justice for every public insult publicly jotted down

Or whispered in the public ear, dancing in a racy gown,

Heavy coats-of-arms hanging on the wall,

Bonafides with slender hands and tall,

A privacy that has no privacy at all;

Nothing backs it up, nowhere at the end of the day

To go; nothing’s nice; public notice will have its public pay.

Should you stumble into the private arms of one

Who rendered once, public proof of love, sorry, the sun

Has new sets of eyes, a public is always burning

New surfaces; only publicly is love now learning

Our truth: privacy is nothing—only the dark,

Where fleet hounds who kissed you, bark.







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“Nonbinary!” What a word! It fires up the imagination! Not only that, it’s scientific. And sexy. And freeing. I don’t know anyone who could have anything to say against it.

As a word.

But even words are powerful things, more powerful than things themselves, more powerful than feelings, more powerful than thoughts, especially if they make one feel like a progressive, radical scientist, against which no argument can be made. “World! I may be a shy vulnerable nobody, but I am nonbinary! Husband! I am nonbinary! Don’t mess with me.”

The once transgressive term, “gay,” or “homosexual,” seems almost quaint when put next to the profound and ever-mysterious, “nonbinary.”

When a word like “gay” begins to lose its buzzword power, the general population begins to do the unthinkable—no longer intimidated by the word, itself, there is an honest and earnest attempt to calmly and rationally discover things beyond the word, itself, and seek to understand what homosexual activity really means.

The most common explanation I’ve seen is:  homosexuality occurs in animals; its rationale is to “thin the herd,” when there has been too much breeding.

But I’ve seen a splendid explanation much less “practical” and more “enlightened:” homosexuality is actually a movement of evolutionary progress, where people choose a partner based on loving, virtuous characteristics, rather than on their genitalia.

Genitalia? Some heterosexuals will protest: I choose a mate based on both: virtue and sex.

These two positions illustrate something crucial, I think.  Homosexuality as a function of enlightened evolution assumes nature is interested in progress, interested in making a “better squirrel.” Like a Marxist philosopher, nature does not want to preserve itself—it wants to change itself.  Homosexuality, from this enlightened and virtuous perspective, belongs to progress.  Typically, we know that people have no choice. People will usually get insulted if they are told that homosexuality is a choice.  Since it is not a choice, homosexuality belongs to nature, and by the reasoning of this “enlightenment” position, to evolution. A person is born homosexual—for the sake of progress.  To make a better squirrel, or a better human being.

But does nature care about progress? Does nature care about a better squirrel? Not really. Animals adapt to environmental conditions. Adaptation is just that: adaptation. Adaptation is slavery, not progress. Nature presents two things: the ruthless environment, and creatures who have no choice but to live within that ruthless environment, or die.  The pearl may be beautiful, but it is a pearl for one reason and one reason, only: it came about because of its ruthless conditions, to which it had to completely and blindly adapt. Animals are not free. Evolution is not free. Adaptation is not free. And nature is not free. Nature does not care if there is a “better” squirrel. The squirrel is a squirrel precisely because it is wholly, not partially, beholden to its environment.  And reproduction is the absolute primary fact of a squirrel’s survival. Since every single thing about a squirrel is based on its ability to survive, and reproduction is necessary for its survival, there is no such thing as a “better” squirrel which “does not reproduce.”  The idea that homosexuality is “progress” in terms of natural evolution is absurd.

The argument that homosexuality belongs to the realm of virtue and not sex—whereas heterosexuality belongs to sex and not virtue—and an important way that nature can evolve or progress, is by producing homosexual humans, is a fascinating and attractive idea.  It’s a very simple, and rather obvious idea, based on the notion that ordinarily, the male is slavishly driven to mate with the female—but homosexuality short-circuits this, producing a male who is able to remove himself from the slavery of reproduction, and focus on more enlightened and virtuous things.

But there are some problems with this.

First, as we mentioned above, it is a simplification to assume the heterosexual is only interested in genitalia—due to the traditional reproductive task to which the heterosexual is supposedly enslaved.  It does not logically follow that a homosexual would be less interested in genitalia, or more interested in personal virtue. After all sex, in terms of meaning, defines the homosexual qua homosexual.

Sex, depending on the person, could have no part of that person whatsoever, but as soon as one is identified as a homosexual, that is precisely, by the strict definition of the word itself, a sexual identity. Even if one is too ugly to have sex, identifying them as a homosexual, makes them, at least in terms of terminology, a sexual being. Homosexual means sex, and nothing else.

Secondly, reproduction is important to nature, but how much time in a man’s life has to be devoted to reproduction? Surely a lifetime is long enough that if a genius is devoted to science or art, there is plenty of time to do their science or art, whether they are gay or straight.

How did homosexuality, then, come to be identified with genius?  It’s easy to see.  Ancient Athens is known for two things: philosophical genius and male homosexuality—but this was because Greek women were slaves, not because male homosexuality by itself produces genius.  The genius, devoted to their craft, will often eschew marriage, children, and sex altogether, and in male dominated societies, count men as their dearest companions, opening up speculation they are gay; but gossip and social relations alone cannot in any way tell us whether homosexuality more than heterosexuality belongs to virtue, or creativity, or genius.

Nature is interested in reproduction, not progress. The genius often does not have children. Nature has no desire to keep breeding geniuses to create a superman. This is not how it works. The genius creates products which transcend nature. The genius defies the slavery of nature by making nature adapt to genius. The genius does not adapt to nature; the nature adapts to genius. Mozart was a miracle, was divine. The reproductive agenda ceases with a creature like Mozart. Nature reproduces with a roll of the dice—it doesn’t plan Mozarts; Nature doesn’t care if the bad or the good reproduce. Poe’s siblings were half-wits. The genius of Poe was not planned by evolution, or nature.

But whether Mozart happened to be gay or straight has absolutely nothing to do with his genius. Nature and evolution have nothing to do with genius. Reproduction produces genius, but only by accident, and reproduction, or lack of reproduction has nothing to do with genius, per se.

There is no enlightened reason for homosexuality to exist, then. A homosexual is not more virtuous, somehow, than a heterosexual.

But what about the nonbinary?  Is this more advanced?

If we go back to the argument, which I think I have debunked, that homosexuality is an evolutionary advancement of some kind, because homosexuals are more concerned with the ‘person’ than the ‘genitalia (reproduction),’ I think it’s pretty clear to see that nonbinary travels down that same road—for unlike the homosexual, the nonbinary eschews not only heterosexuality, but the binary, as well—to which the homosexual, as well as the heterosexual, belongs. In the gender binary language of 1, 0, female, male, a pairing, or a relationship, still signifies a binary situation, within that binary language, whether it is 1/0, 0/1, 0/0, or 1/1.

However, with the nonbinary, we see the same principle in operation.  The nonbinary is supposedly more enlightened, not because the nonbinary is removed from reproduction, like the homosexual, but because the nonbinary is removed from gender.

Imagine a binary language in which heterosexual is 0 and homosexual is 1.  Now we know that a sequence of zeros or a sequence of ones is hardly a language at all. Compare that to the “nonbinary” language, a sequence of any combination of 0 or 1; this produces computer code—a real language.  The nonbinary person, then, in terms of evolution, should be miles ahead of the mere homosexual or heterosexual.  Is a nonbinary person superior to a heterosexual or a homosexual person?  Would that be fair to say?

For the same reason that the homosexual is not in any way superior to the heterosexual, it would be highly prejudicial and unfair to assign any evolutionary advantage to the nonbinary person.  People are not good, or bad, based on reproduction, lack of reproduction, gender, or lack of gender. Nature needs reproduction, and therefore her creatures reproduce in specific ways, based on how they navigate their environment, in completely fixed, reactive, slavish, methods. Nature does not believe in progress, but only in blind reproduction. The miraculous, or the divine, human creativity, is the only participant in progress, and this progress does not happen individually—Mozart did not reproduce a host of little Mozarts—but through art and science which forces nature to adapt to its products, rather than the other way around, where animals must obey and adapt to nature. The transcendent products of art and science reproduce completely apart from the reproductive instruments of nature, and therefore have nothing to do with sex or gender or reproduction. Genius is not nonbinary, heterosexual, or homosexual, and never will be. Genius belongs to a completely different realm, apart from nature.

If the nonbinary is a kind of corrective advancement over homosexuality, we see how it fails in this task, just as all attempts at progress in nature fail, since nature is not aware of progress, only of reproduction and adaption. Just as the word homosexual cannot escape the sexual, the word nonbinary cannot escape the binary—since nonbinary seeks to negate the binary, and therefore if binary does not exist, the nonbinary does not really exist, either. And as we saw above: 010011100 is a binary language, and this is the “language” of the “nonbinary,” which is absurd, just as the language of the heterosexual 000000, or the language of the homosexual, 111111, is equally absurd. The binary condition of gender exists for one reason: reproduction, and reproduction belongs to nature, and not progress.

Therefore, questions of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and the nonbinary will always be a mystery when it comes to the human, since these questions are finally immersed in the science of reproduction and nature—who obeys her own law, and which humans, when they are creative at all, will do best to entirely escape.

The best example we can think of nonbinary is the aggressive male puppy, who, one may notice, will hump almost anything.

Has the mystery of homosexuality been solved?

A recent, October 18, 2018, MIT Technology Review article summarizes the “largest-ever study of genetics and sexual orientation.”  The results are paradoxical—as one might expect—and quite fascinating.  The significance of the study has not yet entered the popular consciousness.  The so-called discovery of the “gay gene” in 1993—a discovery never replicated, and subsequently dismissed in many scientific circles—had tremendous impact on the non-scientific community.

Genetics and sexual orientation are related in mysterious ways. Most likely there is no “gay gene.”

There’s the science of sexual orientation.

And then there’s talk—among the non-scientific.

When it comes to genetics and sexual orientation—or just sexual orientation—there is the scientific, the unscientific, and paradox—the mysterious bridge between the two.

The MIT Technology Review article has an enticing title: “Genes linked to being gay may help straight people get more sex”

In the spirit of the paradox of sexual orientation, I want to examine the work not of a scientist, but that of a poet, who happens to live in Brooklyn.

Then I’ll return to the latest scientific study and the paradox of homosexuality.

We need to see what the poets are saying, too.

A recent short memoir published online by Redivider, is introduced on Facebook by its author, Joanna Valente, as “a thing I wrote,” which gave “me a lot of anxiety to share.”

But share it, she did. And her short memoir has a great opening.

It sounds like the start of the great American novel today:

“I came out to T as a nonbinary after we’d been married for a year.”

Reading Valente’s “thing,” I was reminded why I prefer non-fiction to fiction—the majority of fiction is unreliable memoir—an autobiography rather elaborately disguised for a publisher’s board meeting.

Memoir is not dressed up, but a memoir is no more immune than fiction from unreliability.

But a memoir features an unreliability of a different kind.

A memoir’s unreliability is more unreliable.  It’s less professional. A memoir’s unreliability is right there on the surface. It has the novel’s complexity, but nothing about the complexity is hidden, or airbrushed away.

Immediately after her marvelous opening, Valente, though not a scientist, makes it known to us that she has an understanding of the nonbinary which eclipses her husband’s:

Over dinner I told him nonchalantly, hoping that nonchalance would soften it. I was nervous he wouldn’t understand, that I would just feel ashamed like I was still in 5th grade and trying to fit in with my Ramona Quimby haircut and Doc Martens.

“Okay. So can I still call you my wife to my friends? And use ‘she’ as a pronoun?” he asked.

I smiled quickly, didn’t even let myself feel the disappointment. But in the back of my throat, I felt sad, unseen. It wasn’t about the pronouns for me, it was about the question. It wasn’t about what I wanted.

“Of course you can. So, it’s like O. O is nonbinary too, but is more masculine than me, whereas I’m more femme. I mean, we’ve talked about how I think binaries aren’t helpful anyway. It’s not like masculine or feminine traits even mean anything. We’re all the same, we’re all humans. We’re just socialized to think in binary,” I tried to explain, using my best friend as an example. T always liked O, so I felt like this would help him understand.

“Sure, I mean, I don’t know. This whole thing just seems like a huge trend, a phase,” he said, laughing.

He always made everything a joke. I didn’t mind it unless I was trying to explain something serious—and this was one of those times where I didn’t want the answer to be a joke. I wanted him to see me. I wanted the person who married me to see me. Sometimes I wonder when I really stopped being a wife.

I realize now I that I stopped “being a wife” when I stopped feeling seen by T. How can we stay in worlds, in realities, that don’t feel true to us? We construct our own homes, our most personal and truest realities, in hopes that we can find a sanctuary outside of the capitalist heteronormative society we live in—as a way to dismantle a false world for another. We shouldn’t have to constantly navigate different identities that massage our authenticity into easy boxes and bite-sized ideas. It’s not about leading double lives or contradictory realities, but going between our different identities, like wife and colleague, so often we forget who we are—or try to change who we are to be seen.

A year later, he found an article about the third sex in history and culture; I remember wanting to feel proud of him, and I did, but I also remember feeling so alone. I was waking up as he mentioned it, and pulled the covers over my shoulders, bookmarking it to read for later. Sometimes I wondered if my love of language became too semantic to the point that I was destroying something beautiful; isn’t being too semantic a way to miss the point? Or was I simply just used to pleasing others? I remember how the word “wife” sounded weird in my mouth and offered partner instead. He felt it was too clinical, like a hospital bed. I wanted to find the right words, the right everything, for us. I’m not sure why I couldn’t.

The strange thing is, it’s not that I stopped finding him attractive or began to despise him over time, I just stopped wanting to have sex with him. There are, of course, a million reasons why this could have happened. I was sexually assaulted more than once by the time we met while I was finishing my MFA, I was still figuring out my queer identity, and I often suffered from chronic UTIs during our relationship. The UTIs became a scary cycle: we’d have sex, I’d have shooting pain, take antibiotics, try holistic methods to no success, and the cycle would repeat. Sometimes after sex, I’d spot pale pink blood blending into the toilet paper. My body was broken. I felt like I was broken.

My body was continually traumatized, so of course, I stopped wanting to do something that ended with pain. I became used to it. I shamed myself, as if there was something wrong with me. No doctor really tried to understand it, tried to help me in a real way. Were we just incompatible? I’d find myself thinking.

Valente’s memoir is “unreliable,” but not because she is unreliable—the author speaks, reliably, for herself, for her husband, and for her life. We have no doubt of that.

The unreliability, however, and this is ironic perhaps, lives in the very bones of her story.

Valente is unreliable with a perfect frankness and sincerity.  There is no author playing an unreliable character.  This is better.  The unreliability is sincere.  It is like us.

Fiction puts the burden of knowing on the reader—the memoir puts the burden of knowing on the author.

As soon as we publish on matters of any importance, we betray that world. This is why the dignified are not writers, and why so many good, honest people choose not to be writers. It’s a wise choice, actually, not to write. To write is to betray. If we are reliable in our writing, we betray. This is why Valente was honest when she admitted she had “a lot of anxiety” in sharing her memoir.

According to Valente, her husband makes “everything a joke,” but discussing her nonbinary nature, she doesn’t want to joke.

But what if the nonbinary is a joke?  What if the nonbinary itself is a profound, philosophical joke?

Well, it is.

When Valente presents us with her brilliant, searing, and yet oh so casual opening, “I came out to T as a nonbinary after we’d been married for a year,” she seems unaware that she’s being terribly funny. And ironic.

And here’s the further irony—the husband, according to the wife’s revealing and embarrassing memoir, is the stupid joke in response; we are told he is a joker. The husband’s response, however, is not funny at all; his response is a pleading attempt to “soften” the fact she is coming out as nonbinary; the husband speaks directly to the trope at the bottom of the memoir’s unconscious nonbinary joke: are you still my wife? Is what he asks, and this is very much not a joke.

The husband’s reaction highlights another interesting fact of Valente’s memoir—the fact that she perhaps married the wrong person: he is funny; she is not—her “partner” will not “get” her joke, the joke in which she tells her partner she is nonbinary, a joke she is telling, but, a joke she doesn’t seem to get.

Here’s the great irony: Telling him she is nonbinary makes him disappear. She wants him to see her—but she doesn’t see him.

Her marriage is tragi-comically nonbinary—yet she doesn’t notice the irony when she “confesses” she is nonbinary—she wants to be “seen,” but doesn’t “see” him, or “see” the marriage, or “see” how at every step, she contradicts herself. This is why, for me, she is a unreliable narrator—but not the unreliable narrator produced by the clever novelist. She is better than that.

T was supportive, to a point. It’s hard to understand how to help someone who suffers from sexual trauma, who stopped wanting to have sex with you even though they still love you. The problem was, I realized, I was expected to figure it all out by myself; T would listen when I would confront him, but offer little help or solutions. I was alone. I went to therapy on and off—to little success. One therapist even told me I wasn’t sexually assaulted in the first place, while another mostly listened, but never said much. Resentment seeping into me like a pus filling a wound. My entire body, my entire being, felt like a wound. A scab.

On the morning I moved out of my one-bedroom apartment with T, he helped me drive a truck with what I could fit into my new bedroom in an apartment shared with three strangers—because I couldn’t afford to stay in an apartment by myself. That’s the thing about New York City; it’s a city for couples, because hardly anyone without financial support or a hefty salary can afford an apartment on their own. I was delirious with fever, dealing with a chronic ear illness. It all felt too messy, too overwhelming, not real. I convinced myself this was good: I’ll discover myself and find ways to save our marriage—which largely meant, I’ll find ways to have sex with T again. After all, it was my idea to move. I craved space. I wanted a space to find myself.

During the beginning of our separation, we still saw each other a few times a week, slept over each other’s places; we were dating, basically. In retrospect, it’s hard for me not to feel like I was dangled, as if this was just a way to fade me out easily; perhaps that wasn’t  T’s intention, but I was still afraid. I was afraid if I didn’t  perform “wife” the right way or do the right things, he’d leave. I can’t say I wasn’t wrong. He was seeing someone else he met at work earlier that year, but I was hoping it was just a fling, something short-term and fun. I was going on dates, myself, but none of them mattered.

Two months after I moved, I started to feel him slip away; his fling was turning into a full-fledged relationship. I didn’t want to be unsupportive, so I supported him; I understood how it must have felt, having sex after years of intermittent sex that felt often very fragile, like a feeling for a cobweb in the dark. And yet, I felt abandoned, betrayed—left for someone else, someone new, someone fun—someone with less hang ups. I felt betrayed to be left when I was sick, dealing with an illness that left me with a hearing impairment, unsure if my hearing would return “back to normal.” It did, but with 24/7 tinnitus. Nothing, of course, is the same. A few months after our separation, we met for dinner. I couldn’t help but cry and say I missed him. I missed us. I missed my home. One of the hardest things about the breakup, any breakup, is rebuilding a home. I wanted us to work out, go to therapy, do something.

Valente’s behavior as a nonbinary is there for all the world to see, in her contradictory, nonbinary, behavior—she chooses to move away from her husband, a supporting husband, (perhaps clueless at times, but one she loves, at least she says as much in the memoir) to find “space”—in a four-bedroom flat with three random roommates.

According to her, dealing with medical issues and alone, she makes the decisive move to vacate her home with him, when she still loves him, and then (surprise) she wants him back, after she moves out, and after she gives him license to sleep with another woman, as she, the ever reliable narrator and wife, is, according to her confession, unable to have intercourse with him (and feeling guilty about it). Nonbinary, indeed!

The unrequited love she has for her husband becomes for her, unconsciously, the ultimate nonbinary affliction.

Her romantic longings are the old-fashioned parallel to the post-modern nonbinary of sexual politics—the heart-throb nonbinary and the sexual politics nonbinary are intimately connected on many levels, which she, able to lecture her husband on what the nonbinary, doesn’t see. There’s more irony and paradox here than you can shake a stick at.

Perhaps she doesn’t love her husband, and he really is a monster, and every unconscious, gut-feeling, step she took was to save her dignity, and herself, from a marriage that was a (binary) mistake.

The narrative arc of either fiction or memoir, like all attempts at self-rationalizing thought, self-justifies itself during its inevitable forward movement in time. Fiction/memoir justifies everything, even as it betrays everything. And, of course, she tortures herself at what she could have done differently to make the marriage work.

This is the fate of all romance: nonbinary tortures the binary.

But just as Valente vanquishes her husband when it comes to the understanding of the nonbinary, the question arises: do we need to step outside of all narrative arcs, and philosophically and scientifically apprehend the nonbinary to understand what it really is?

Yes, even fiction, even scientific nonfiction is trapped in the narrative arc of its reasoning. If this review of Valente’s memoir so far is already an indication of a critic trapped in his review, just as Valente is trapped in her marriage, the critical arc yet demands philosophy (science) solve the tangle, a tangle related so calmly and deftly by Valente in her memoir.

It is hard to fathom whether Valente’s memoir is more like Anna Karenina or Judith Butler.

What is this, exactly? Old school romance or post-modern sexual blurring?

The wonderful opening line, “I came out to T as a nonbinary,” hints at Judith Butler, but there’s plenty of Anna Karenina, too:

I convinced myself this was good: I’ll discover myself and find ways to save our marriage—which largely meant, I’ll find ways to have sex with T again.


Two months after I moved, I started to feel him slip away; his fling was turning into a full-fledged relationship.


And yet, I felt abandoned, betrayed—left for someone else, someone new, someone fun—someone with less hang ups.


“How do you feel about us?” I asked him.

“I feel so, so guilty. I don’t want to abandon you, but I feel like we’re just friends. We’ve always been friends, but I need passion. I want something more. I want to see where things go with R… But I also don’t I’m abandoning you, since I’m still here for you. We’re still friends,” he said, firmly as tears formed in his eyes.

“I mean, if this is what you want, I want you to do it. I just want you to be happy. Obviously, I don’t want you to stay with me and then just resent me… I do feel rushed, though,” I said, trying to choose my words wisely, pausing and then said, “And I do feel blindsided. I want to try. Go to couples’ therapy. I just feel like it hasn’t been long enough to just give up.”

“But I’ve spent so much time with you,” he said. “I don’t want to keep prolonging this. I feel like we did try.”

“I know, and I’m not saying things would necessarily work out. I just want to feel like we did everything we could. I also wish the timing was better. I kind of sucks that a lot of this happened when I was sick. I did feel abandoned then,” I said, trying to push away that familiar ache in my throat.

So here is the question, as we observe the clinical truth of the “nonbinary” resting beside old-fashioned “binary” romance of Anna Karenina:

How much free will is involved in sex?

Here’s what Valente says:

“If life post-separation has taught me anything, it’s that love is a choice. You choose to stay in love, to work on love, to work on yourself.”

How much of this opinion is romance, and how much of it is scientific?

And remember, she says this: “The strange thing is, it’s not that I stopped finding him attractive or began to despise him over time, I just stopped wanting to have sex with him. There are, of course, a million reasons why this could have happened.”

When the general population uses the term nonbinary in terms of sexual orientation, are they using it scientifically?

Is being nonbinary a choice?

Is staying true to one partner a choice?

Is having multiple partners a choice?

Is sleeping with both genders a choice?

Is the nonbinary, which is replacing homosexuality in social importance, on some unconscious or pre-conscious level, The Revenge of the Cis?

Is the “nonbinary” secretly a heterosexual trope in an age of sexual confusion?

As a nonbinary queer person, Valente believes in free will and choice: “I’ll find ways to have sex with T again.” “No one ever talks about how you have to work at sex.” Contrast with the following quote by the current U.S. president’s gay US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell:

“The truth for LGBT people is that we were born gay.”

It is almost time to return to the recent study on genetics and sexual orientation.

But permit me to rant and speculate a little further.

Is successful “partnering-up” a choice, or not?

Does the general population really understand the underlying truths of sexual orientation?  Is there a scientific test they can take? Do they only know after they sexually experiment? Or do they not know then, either, until they experiment some more? Or does too much experimenting confuse a person? Are they obligated to work on a relationship? Or do relationships happen based on how they were born? And what exactly makes them happen in the first place? What images or gestures matter, on a micro-level? How much is nurture, or nature? How can we begin to understand the complexity of a relationship? Who tells us this? Whom do we trust? A scientist? A potential lover? Ourselves? A wise aunt? The bible? The Oracle of Delphi? Teen Vogue? Jerry Springer? How much does scientific knowledge benefit the general population in this regard? How much of it is feeling and instinct? How much does popular culture impact how people feel?

And there’s a deeper philosophical question.  As Valente says when she first tells her huband she is a nonbinary:

“It’s not like masculine or feminine traits even mean anything. We’re all the same, we’re all humans. We’re just socialized to think in binary.”

In terms of pure logic, if there is no binary, there is no nonbinary, either.

And again, in the strictest logical terms, “binary” exists in whatever relationship there is between two people—at any moment in time.

There can only be a “binary” relationship.  There is no other.

How does nonbinary exist at all, then? If a relationship doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist. A non-existent relationship is not nonbinary—it simply is not a relationship at all.

If nonbinary denotes, simply, “swings both ways,” one could make a case for nonbinary as having meaning, but if, as Valente points out, “It’s not like masculine or feminine traits even mean anything. We’re all the same, we’re all humans,” then isn’t “swings both ways” essentially meaningless within this context?  If a relationship is just a relationship, then every unique relationship is, as a matter of course, binary.

Relationships, then, will always be binary, whether or not one has found “the right one,” and, in Valente’s case, she seems to have definitely toyed (is that the wrong word?) with the idea that her husband is “the right one.” She is quite upset when her husband tells her he has found someone else who is “the right one,” even as she says she is “happy for him.”

That night over dinner with him, I asked if he was happy with her, if she was the right one. He said yes. I wanted to rip out all the years from inside my body, but I knew I couldn’t. I wanted to be happy for him, and I was, so I said so. Antagonizing or trying to persuade him was useless. It would alienate both of us. So I didn’t.

Again, and this is quite natural, and surely this happens a million times a day all over the world—and in many cases, including this story of Valente’s, we find ourselves asking: Is this Anna Karenina or Judith Butler?  A Tolstoy romance or Post-Modern Gender Studies?  If Judith Butler is assumed to be more “scientific,” what does it mean when the general population of non-scientists feeds their hearts on scientific terminology, but terminology of which the deeper philosophical implications they haven’t thought through?  Is this bad, or good?

With this in mind, we now turn to the high paradox of sexual orientation genetics in the most recent study on sex and genetics, where science, poetry and unreliable narrators commingle.

After discussing Valente’s work, the irony and paradox of genes, sex, sexual orientation, choice, free will, knowledge, hearsay, love, romance, binary and nonbinary, should leap right out at you:

It is best to quote profusely from the MIT Technology Review article itself—written, thankfully, for the lay person. And in fact, the article is brief enough that we can quote the whole thing:

Across cultures, between 2% and 5% of men are gay. That amounts to an evolutionary paradox: gay men have fewer children, so one would expect that the trait would disappear over time. But it hasn’t.

Now a team of researchers has carried out the largest-ever genetic study of sexual orientation and found evidence consistent with one possible explanation. The very same genetic factors that predispose people to being gay may also, when heterosexuals have them, lead to more sexual partners and greater “mating success.”

Details of the unpublished study have been described in a public research  plan, in two scientific abstracts, and by researchers at a scientific meeting held in June at the Broad Institute, a genome research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The hunt for sexual orientation genes—which wades into the polarizing question of whether people are born gay or become so—is part of a boom in genomics research that aims to unveil how genes shape behavior, not just diseases.

Powering the new social genetics are huge databases, including the British government-funded UK Biobank and the DNA of millions of customers collected by 23andMe, a consumer gene testing company. Scientists have begun using this mass of data to successfully probe the genetic basis of a surprising range of behaviors, from smoking to insomnia, intelligence, marijuana use, and even time spent watching television.

The research is at its most sensitive when it touches on sexual orientation. Jeffrey Reid, who is head of genome informatics at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and who is gay, says he is concerned about how such discoveries are discussed in the press. That could have an outsize impact on already vulnerable people, he says.

“Supposedly ‘clear evidence’ of a genetic basis for homosexuality may lead a parent to deem their gay son irrevocably broken and eject him from their life,” Reid says. “Alternatively, maybe some evidence of a genetic basis of homosexuality may lead a parent to embrace their child as God made them, or lead someone struggling out of darkness and into self-acceptance.”

Because the work could be controversial, the team behind the new gene hunt opted to post their research plan online in 2017. They described their intent to perform a genome-wide association study, a technique originally developed to locate genetic susceptibilities to diseases like macular degeneration and diabetes.

But instead of scouring for associations between people’s illnesses and features of their genomes, they would carry out a vast statistical analysis comparing the DNA of hundreds of thousands of people with information about their sexual behavior.

It’s already well known that being gay is partly genetic—as in all other behaviors, genes play a role. Yet earlier attempts to identify specific genes involved were, by and large, unsuccessful. That’s mainly because there wasn’t enough genetic data available. The new study is about 10 times larger than any previous effort.

“With these large sample sizes, we are finally discovering things we can actually kind of count on being true,” says Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies sexuality.

The search was two-pronged. First, the team used DNA data on more than 300,000 heterosexuals who had disclosed in a survey how many sex partners they’d had. Then, to find genes linked to what the researchers call “non-heterosexual behavior,” the team also identified about 28,000 people who had answered yes to the following survey question: “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex?”

According to a presentation by team member Robbee Wedow of the University of Colorado in June, the researchers located four positions in men’s genomes that were statistically correlated with their ever having had gay sex, and about 40 correlated with whether heterosexuals had had more or fewer sex partners.

“This is not saying that someone is going to be heterosexual or not—it’s really saying there is going to be a slightly higher or a slightly lower chance,” Benjamin Neale, a geneticist at the Board Institute and one of the study’s leaders, said during MIT Technology Review’s Em Tech conference in September.

When it comes to explaining who is gay, though, Bailey says the study is “not ideal.” That’s because it relies on people’s self-reported sexual history. This may be too broad, says Bailey: the researchers may have categorized people willing to experiment sexually along with those who consider themselves gay.

According to Wedow’s presentation, the team had less success finding genetic links among women who’d had sex with women. That could mean they need a still larger number of volunteers, or it could reflect the failure of the study’s design to capture the nuances of people’s sexual behavior.

Nevertheless, the researchers used the results to address the question of why homosexuality is relatively common. One possible explanation for why it is, they say, is that the same genetic factors also give a reproductive advantage to straight people who have them.

According to an abstract the team submitted to the American Society for Human Genetics, whose annual meeting is under way this week in San Diego, the DNA signals linked to gay sexual experiences also appeared more often in straight men who had a large number of sex partners. The team also notes that straight men with the gay-linked variants were, on average, judged more “physically attractive” than others (the researchers decline to say who did the judging). This, the scientists conclude, could mean that these variants also “confer a mating advantage to heterosexual carriers.”

Such trade-offs are a fact of evolution. For instance, gene variants that can cause sickle-cell anemia also lend protection against malaria. The resulting balance means the sickle-cell gene doesn’t die out. The researchers say their new findings about non-heterosexual behavior, though not conclusive, are consistent with such a Darwinian balancing act.

The mystery is solved!

The chief question is: if homosexuals don’t have children, why does the gay gene persist?

And it has a very intriguing answer:

The “gay” gene persists, because, according to this latest, massive study, it is not really a “gay” gene, at all, but a “promiscuous” gene.

Nature, who is always the boss, needs insurance that a least some portion of the population will actively and aggressively breed—and in heterosexuals, that’s just what these genes produce.

But since over-breeding is a danger, too, and too much aggression (promiscuous behavior) in a population is a also danger, nature siphons off a certain amount of these genes—they perish in the homosexual, who is bred not to breed.

Homosexuality is where aggressive genes go to die.

Are homosexuals aggressive?

Most people know the “soft” homosexual is a myth—homosexuals are often unsentimental, sarcastic, and “manly,” and drag queens are often tough as nails; the homosexual aches to be softer—and that’s precisely why they want to dress up as women.

Nature is cruel—she has ideas (articulated by the cunning and complexity of genetics) for the good of the whole—so results for the individual are often not ideal.

As the article so clearly puts it:

One possible explanation for why [homosexuality is relatively common] they say, is that the same genetic factors also give a reproductive advantage to straight people who have them.

According to an abstract the team submitted to the American Society for Human Genetics, whose annual meeting is under way this week in San Diego, the DNA signals linked to gay sexual experiences also appeared more often in straight men who had a large number of sex partners. The team also notes that straight men with the gay-linked variants were, on average, judged more “physically attractive” than others (the researchers decline to say who did the judging). This, the scientists conclude, could mean that these variants also “confer a mating advantage to heterosexual carriers.”

Such trade-offs are a fact of evolution. For instance, gene variants that can cause sickle-cell anemia also lend protection against malaria. The resulting balance means the sickle-cell gene doesn’t die out. The researchers say their new findings about non-heterosexual behavior, though not conclusive, are consistent with such a Darwinian balancing act.

We talked about the bi-part aspect of Valente’s memoir: Anna Karenina v. Judith Butler, the lay person’s feelings about sexual orientation v. the science of sexual orientation.  And isn’t that sort of what the science says? Genetics tells us, in fact, that gay and straight are mysteriously mixed.

Genetics is more complex than we know, and that’s why there is no simple “gay gene;” genetics works more like a sentence—“I came out to T as a nonbinary after we’d been married for a year,” in which “nonbinary” and “married,” two opposites, exist together in the genetic strand.  The individual—in this case Joanna Valente—is riven by contradictions, agendas and considerations of which she is hardly aware.

Nature and its genetic schemes feature trillions of hits and trillions of misses—and Nature is always attempting to regulate the ratio of hits to misses—too many hits is bad and too many misses is bad; Nature is ruthless when it comes to the hits and misses—scientists study genes looking for both behaviors and diseases, for the good and the bad, for the hits and the misses, and scientists often find genes working against each other in paradoxical tandem.

Paradox seems to be the name of the game.  Look at this passage:

The hunt for sexual orientation genes—which wades into the polarizing question of whether people are born gay or become so—is part of a boom in genomics research that aims to unveil how genes shape behavior, not just diseases.

Powering the new social genetics are huge databases, including the British government-funded UK Biobank and the DNA of millions of customers collected by 23andMe, a consumer gene testing company. Scientists have begun using this mass of data to successfully probe the genetic basis of a surprising range of behaviors, from smoking to insomnia, intelligence, marijuana use, and even time spent watching television.

The research is at its most sensitive when it touches on sexual orientation. Jeffrey Reid, who is head of genome informatics at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and who is gay, says he is concerned about how such discoveries are discussed in the press. That could have an outsize impact on already vulnerable people, he says.

“Supposedly ‘clear evidence’ of a genetic basis for homosexuality may lead a parent to deem their gay son irrevocably broken and eject him from their life,” Reid says. “Alternatively, maybe some evidence of a genetic basis of homosexuality may lead a parent to embrace their child as God made them, or lead someone struggling out of darkness and into self-acceptance.”

How non-scientists talk about the science impacts the science.

Scientists are acutely aware how a genetic discovery can be devoured by real-life non-scientific behavior.

The science of love and feelings will be swamped by those same love and feelings as they play out and actually exist.

When it comes to love and the nonbinary, science and fiction (poetry) are the same.

And here is where the “unreliable narrator, mentioned earlier in this essay, inserts itself into the scientific study:

“When it comes to explaining who is gay, though, Bailey says the study is “not ideal.” That’s because it relies on people’s self-reported sexual history”

A child is the parents’ genes in action, but where there is no proof of the binary, where the reality is nonbinary, we are always dealing with the unreliable.

Writers like Valente, and this is why they are writers, live in that ambiguous place where proof of love is impossible. Writers, even confessional writers, tend to thrive, silently, in ambiguity. We see this most clearly when the nonbinary Valente is confronted by her husband’s aggressive and binary-crazed lover. Note how the nonbinary Valente cannot speak in the face of her binary rival, who comes looking for precise “timeline” relationship information:

When I met R, T’s new girlfriend over dinner, I fumbled with my umbrella as she introduced herself and felt the metal dig into my finger—felt the irony of this new cut as I saw them together. She was walking arm in arm with T, both of them giggling. I immediately felt like Ursula, old and unattractive and outdated.

The three of us sat down and awkwardly looked at our menus, made small talk for what seemed like an eternity about her move from Australia, what she wants for her career, that time a snake broke her arm. She was light, like a pale lavender crystallizing into something bright. Except that lightness seemed to miss the point, there was something off, as if it wasn’t light I was seeing at all, but something else.

As I sipped my soda, slowly, trying to seem calm and collected, I wanted to tell her the only reason he asked me to meet her was because they got into a fight over dinner where he called her by my name. He asked me over lunch a few weeks before to “do him a favor” and meet her to quell “insecurities.” When I mentioned it sounded like she didn’t trust him or trust that he was over me, he added

“She does trust me, but I think meeting you would just help.” Why did it feel like everyone was missing the point but me?

I didn’t know what to say, and most of all, I didn’t want to ruin his relationship. If it didn’t work, I didn’t want to be the one at fault, the vindictive ex trying to destroy everything. I didn’t want to be Ursula. I wanted to be the cool ex. I wanted us all to get along. How naive. How foolish to put my own needs last—but also how typical of me.

“I’m sorry I have to ask you something awkward,” she said, all of a sudden.

“Go ahead…You can ask me anything,” I said, warmly, trying to be what everyone wanted me to be. Trying to be happy.

“Well, why did you two beak up? I just want to make sure our timelines are correct, you know, because men can be awful and I’ve been hurt before,” she said.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell her that I had been hurt, over and over and over by men. That I was hurt right now. Instead, I massaged my feelings into a softer batter.

“Well, we faded into friendship, basically. It’s hard to say when it happened, we had been together for five years from a young age. I think sex in general has been hard for me, because I was sexually assaulted only two years before we met. I was still dealing with that trauma. And I think, because of all of those things, it lead us to where we are today. We didn’t have a big fight or a falling out. We obviously don’t hate each other. I still love him, as a friend,” I added, looking at him as I finished.

He nodded, then turned to her.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Thank you for telling me that, for being so honest,” she said.

She looked down at the table momentarily. Maybe she felt ashamed for asking me. Maybe she didn’t know what to say. I put my hands in my lap to prevent them from shaking. The rest of the conversation reverted back to small talk until she went to the bathroom and he asked if I wanted to split the check with him. I stared at him, feeling my eyebrows lift. It’s not that I didn’t want to pay for my own meal, but I also didn’t want to pay for a meal I didn’t want to be at—that was a favor to him.

When she came back from the bathroom, he put his card on the bill and gave it to the waiter. I held back a smile. Everyone’s performance was convincing.

It was still raining as I got off the subway and walked home, put Miles Davis on repeat until I didn’t even notice the sounds, didn’t even hear what was playing.








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For Milo

The only flaw is death, and this flaw

(Remember!) Is invisible. My dog has a perfect paw and jaw and claw,

Blonde coat, muscles, and human eyes;

Every moment, his nose smells a subtle surprise,

And he has emotions just like me;

When I come home: a fountain of grateful, happy alacrity.

The only flaw is death, and death’s flaw

Has one cure: birth. Birth, the hero; death, the law.

They fixed Milo today. Looking in his eyes, I say, “give me your paw.”

He gives me his paw. The only flaw is death, and this flaw

Gives me everything: sleep, fear, sorrow, surprise, affection, awe.





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Since everything is certain

And I manifest, in comity, certainty,

Everything is certain to be uncertain around here.

The winds of uncertainty are blowing through the woodlands of weir.

Since everything is certain,

Your nakedness for me the highest feast,

Steps will be taken to make that the least

Thing on your mind. And if I say death

Is my certain fear, you’ll say with your tender breath,

“I welcome it.” You won’t fear death.

Since I avoid what is ugly and disgusting,

You will then find ugliness more trusting.

You are certain to find

Whatever is different in my mind.

Then it’s certain I will change from beauty

To the more honest nudity

Of art and opinion and fashion.

But doubt will enter you. I will find your passion

Changing. Your certain volatility

Is my poem, my smile, my ability

To say goodbye to you; certainly

You didn’t think your dark curtain,

Your acts, would make me uncertain?

I will meet you on either side.

Since everything is certain.



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When he was doing something he was thinking about something else.

If you are not paying attention, you’ll get run over by a car

And no philosophy will save you.

Pity yourself. This is what you are,

A scrap which the cook at supper gave you,

The cook, the God of somebody else.

Conqueror or poet, you live in a limited box,

No better than Louisa, the typist,

In her room; no better than Jonathan who fixes the locks.

Auden, the lazy, was finally the best,

Too lazy to be a genius through and through.

He would wake, smoke, write a poem, rest;

It’s quiet. Don’t disturb him. I’m warning you.



Image result for rose in renaissance painting

Unable to love and love, you loved like mad

Someone who couldn’t help but hate all the hatred you had.

I realize now why I had to get away from you.

Every time you loved me, you had to hate me, too.

Unable to love and love, you soon hated one

You loved, because love meant you couldn’t have any fun.

You were like Diane Downs who loved a married man

Who didn’t like children. So she bought a gun

And shot her three children, with no remorse.

Love was the reason she loved abortion and divorce,

Love was the reason she drove to the hospital slow

And shot herself in the arm so maybe people wouldn’t know

That she did it, though she laughed and only talked about herself

Afterwards. You love, but it means you have to hate someone else.

Unable to love and love, you loved me like no one I’ve ever seen.

For the rose, perhaps. As long as there wasn’t any green.











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I don’t know what I said!
Or why I said what I did!
Maybe, as a poet, I’m mad
To say what should be hid.
These counterfeit passports will get
My passion into every country yet;
And when you let my poetry stay,
Your dry decency will be a bay.
Logic becomes wise beyond its years,
The beautiful laundry is wet with tears,
Hidden love speaks out, without trying.
My words are flying, flying,
Into places flesh would enter
With force, or crass banter.
Do you think I’m wrong
To spread out my song?
Should we just let the simpleton honestly tell
How she is making him feel unwell?
For the simpletons are desperately trying,
And failing. They don’t know it’s because
Only the words of poets please love.



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Say goodbye to your heroes,

Though they are still heroes, say

Goodbye to them. Life changes every day.

A day changes your life and a life changes your eye.

Say goodbye, say goodbye.

Say goodbye to your body, defended

By other bodies, with motives false, or true.

Your body has been changing. It’s no longer a hero to you.

The hero will always be a hero, your body

Made bodies do thoughtful things—

Making love, decorating, assassinating kings.

Say goodbye to Shakespeare. Desire

In Shakespeare’s day was a fire,

But modern cycles, as Andy Warhol came to know,

Has made desire a covering of snow.

The statues of monarchs are not feared any more.

No paths of beaten gold lead to the golden shore.

Gods no longer expect to receive

Stone phalluses, tokens; the gods don’t believe

In planets, bottles of tears, obedience, whether we joy or grieve.

On the vulgar internet, the women come and go.

What the liberal arts developed, is moving much too slow.

The influential believe in indiscriminate sex,

The powerless ponder how much they love their ex.

Say goodbye, say goodbye.

There’s a cake and a video in your eye.

You wept for a hero yesterday,

But no one is heroic now.

Today you weep alone.

Technology gave you a stone.

No one sees you, even though they can, now.

How is it we know less, now that we know how?

Where are the heroes? There are none.

In Chemistry they teach us there is hydrogen in the sun.

You finally got over poetry. You write it, alone.

The worm sits on the elephantine throne.








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The morbid misanthropes are wise.

They are selfish like you,

But unlike you, they don’t wear a disguise.

The one who is bought is the one who buys.

You are garrulous and reach out

To peers, who never succumb to doubt.

They will buy your book if you buy theirs.

The value of the book? Who cares?

You buy their book if they buy yours.

Look at these naive, gullible, affectionate, whores.

The morbid misanthrope will never be

Like that. From the very beginning the misanthrope says, “No.

I don’t really like you. I have to go.”

You wish sometimes you were like that, too.

You are. Enthusiastic, disguised. But that is you.



Image result for small town main street in black and white photo

“The row of stores along Main Street was unchangingly grey.” —Shirley Jackson

The poetry, to be poetry, had to be outrageous,

Which is to say, unscientific. You cannot say

Everything you need to say about Main Street. Just say it’s grey.

You really hate Main Street; this is why you say this.

To stand up for the eccentric individual is to be

A poet. Hating is the best way of loving in poetry.

Knowing you will die? This will make you hate death,

And your poem, immortal in someone else’s breath,

Your revenge, but only if you hate death so well,

That its opposite, life, won’t let you down,

Because if life hollers and sings and claps its hands like a clown—

Then ragged life is now the thing you hate.

The slender woman in black who makes you wait

Is the poet you want. Her name, mostly vowels. Her book, outrageous:

No pagination; and the death of her name the theme of its pages.





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When sorrow turns to anger, thought fades away.

I always thought I loved you. But not today.

Simple physical love is the highest form of love;

Fret and worry added, is love we define as love.

Insult—the source of pain—drives love away.

Love has no insult. But you insulted me today.

Afraid to lose you, my love chose to be kind.

My heart chose to love. Love opened my mind.

Physical love is heaven; there is nothing bad

About carnality, but socially, comparison is sad

When desire, measured by hot embraces per week,

Shames us, whether we speak or don’t speak.

Our desires were slightly unequal. This insulted me.

Love dreams its love mathematically.

What you remember loving, you tried to love that day.

Your memory was off. So love faded away.






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When I loved you, Rosalinda,

I loved the vowels of your name.

The specifics I sought

Were, in the wind, the same.

A storm, the difference,

From what happened before.

A storm inhibited by the mountainous shore,

Where I would go bathing,

The sunset and the sand hardly worth saving,

For what is it about sunsets and sand,

Beyond peace, Rosalinda, one needs to understand?

Your arms were the first thing

Which made my senses sting.

I looked up and down them.

I loved the slight down on them.

I loved the wrists and the skin.

Your arms were my entrance to sin.

Arms have to be a certain way,

In the proportion to the body,

In the things they do by the side,

And they cannot be hairy or spotty;

No extraordinary poet who loved or cried

Could understand. Rosalinda, I lied

About my love for arms to everyone but you.

They desired a thousand things. I fell in love with two.





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Are you willing to love me?

Why must you compare yourself to another?

Love. You’ll find out what it’s for

In one form or another.

Spies want you, a spy told me,

And watch out, that poet isn’t your brother.

He’s also a critic.

But all of us are spies

In one form or another.

Experts dispute the need for love,

Love that murders, if it doesn’t smother.

The child wriggles to its end

With philosophy

In one form or another.

Did you want education, or a mother?

The educated want to teach me,

But they can’t teach my mother.

I’ve heard it all before

In one form or another.




Image result for working on the river in painting

I can’t decide

Whether you are friendly or filthy.

I think I better hide

Behind my religion and my hijab.

Your thoughts are free, but filthy.

You need to be a friend. Not an intellectual slob.

I see you are a poet, but I also see

You drowned in fake creativity.

You say, “love the dog. The dog has dreams.”

The dog has fleas. Fleas on dogs have dreams.

Brown rivers work. You float on crystal streams.

Do not throw away my veil, these rules

Are God’s. The warship. The submarine.

Morality is guided by filthy versus clean.

One is clean and not always nice,

Or friendly and filthy. I am moral, twice.

First, I’m friendly. Second, I’m clean.

The political parties are divided so:

One cuts the grass. One allows the grass to grow.

But one still follows rules in the shadow.

The hijab hates filth. That’s because

When you are poor, filth stains what you love.

So the poor hate love; too much love

Brings too much filth, and too much filth

Teaches the poor to be clean.

Rich people are the most disgusting people I have ever seen.

They falsify filth. Rich people say, “Let the grass grow!

Friendliness is filthy!” But the proud, religious, middle class says: “No,

Filth is fleas and crime. You don’t know

Our suffering. You are arrogance, immured in dreams.”

“Oh learn to love the earth,” say the rich, “and her crystal streams.”









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Before he read the poem he explained the poem,

It had to be explained, first; it was a complicated poem;

It was contextualized by his tragic life,

By the encouragement of his lover, by the objection of his wife.

He nervously joked, and made the audience smile;

He hadn’t read his poem aloud in a while,

And the thought of it failing made him freak;

The poem hung back; the poet had to speak.

He brought them anecdotes from his tragic life;

He hinted at his lover, he joked about his wife;

She was in the audience; he never knew

She had a lover, who was a critic, too.

The judgment would come later in the Brag Street Review.

But for now the poem waited, as the poet spoke.

His best friend in the lobby, desperate for a smoke,

Wasn’t sure, now, if he should go in;

His friend was speaking, with that nervous grin;

Oh go on, read the poem, he thought;

What difference does it make? He was caught

Between worlds; everyone was:

Aftermaths, preludes, critiques, loves.


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What are we doing when we read poetry?

To use a sports metaphor, since this is March Madness—it is an advantage to know your opponent (your poem).

Just to take an example in baseball: The second time through the lineup, when the hitters have already had a turn at bat, and they have seen “what the pitcher can do,” the pitcher in that game, facing the hitters a second time, will find it more difficult in getting the batters out. To “know” your opponent, in sports, means they become less of an opponent—to know is to diminish the other’s effect on you.

Is this true in poetry?  When we get to know a poem, does it then become less of a poem to us?  Less interesting to us? When the novelty wears off, do we no longer admire some poems?

Are we reading poetry to know it and “defeat” it, or do we desire it to defeat us—and therefore we are not reading poems to “know” them?

Is the poem good—like an opponent is good—when it defeats us?  Does knowing the poem, therefore, make it less enjoyable?

And if this is true, how does the poet keep us from knowing about the poem?

As we examine the 8 poets vying for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen, let’s look at this

Jennifer Barber, who is seeded no. 1 in the Mystery (or Mysterious) bracket, offers up what looks like an easy pitch to hit:

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

The reader is expected to bite on, “Sure, it was a dream,” and we do bite, because dreams are ubiquitous; we feel at times that life is a dream. “Sure, it was dream” is much better than, “It was a dream,” which would make us slightly uneasy;” It was a dream” sounds a little foreboding. Or a little boring. Either one.

So right away the poet has set us up beautifully. “Sure, it was a dream…”

Here’s the rest: “but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

The “but even so” disarms us further: Sure it was… But even so.

Then, in a few words, Jennifer Barber gives us the strange, the intimate, and the mundane all at once: “you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

Imagine the difficulty of describing the thousand sounds of a battle.  Here the poet triumphs in terms of delivery by describing something mysterious which needs almost no describing: “you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

The experts in the March Madness Poetry tourney all say Jennifer Barber is one of the contestants to watch.

Can you see why?

It sets us up. And delivers.

Srividya Sivakumar describes for us what she’s doing:

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

The movement of this line features objects of a search (coral and abalone) which are not found, but may be found, in the danger of the line’s end: lair.

It’s wonderfully done.

We love this line.

But Jennifer Barber wins.


Merryn Juliette “grey as I am” and Aakriti Kuntal “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.” go toe to toe.

This may be the most interesting match so far—grey versus red.

All art has a frame—do we save our admiration for how much can be put into the frame?

Why shouldn’t we wander away from the frame, and be free?  Why do we care for what happens to be inside an artificial frame?

Life is ours, and can never live inside a frame.  We should resent all frames, and with the famous Greek philosopher, hate poetry.  What is wrong with us?

A poem’s length is its frame—“grey as I am” is a miniature.  Its duration, its frame, its existence, is but a model of all life.  If we worship anything, anything at all, a person, or an animal, or a flower, or a thought, why shouldn’t we kneel in holy rapture and affection before, “grey as I am?”

What should we make of Aakriti Kuntal’s strange command?

“Close your eyes then.” All life is but a blocking out.  One sensation, one exit, one entrance, replaced by another.

And then another strange command: “Imagine the word on the tip of the your tongue.”

Those who carry words on the tips of their tongue tend to be shallow deceivers.  Is this what the poet means?  The name of someone dear to you lives in your heart, not on the tip of your tongue.

And then comes the joke: “The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Could it be the poet is commanding their enemy to close their eyes and contemplate how silly and shallow they are?

You are but a tongue!

This is speculation by March Madness experts on Kuntal’s fascinating line. It has just the right amount of mystery, don’t you think?

But the whole spirit of “grey as I am” is entirely different. We don’t have commands. We have a reticent humility.

In a close contest, “grey as I am” wins.


Michelina Di Martino has one of the most unusual lines in the tournament, consisting of a two pieces of speech, one of them a question. It is bizarre but does not strain after the bizarre. It is utterly charming.

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sridala Swami counters with a difficulty which is almost mathematical.

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

The line suggests set theory.

Here is all words.  Here is this book with a certain amount of words. And your one chance is speaking with the words in the book.  By the time one speaks, has one already been spoken for?

With one line, Sridala Swami suggests the whole psychology of poetry.  It is a powerful line, indeed.

It is power versus charm.

“Let us make love. Where are we?” prevails at last.


Nabina Das has given us a real mystery with “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

Kushal Poddar provides the flip side of a mystery—something closer to a reverie.  The joy of a reverie participates in the feeling of mystery, but one which is pleasant, and not necessary to solve.

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

There’s something in us, however, which wants to solve every mystery, even those reveries, even those moments when we quietly forget.  “What was that?” we ask.  “What should I be doing now?”

In the battle of the uncomfortable versus the comfortable,  Kushal Poddar, with his “All Winter. All Summer,” wins.



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When we finally hug I know

It will hurt you, even as you love

In the forgiveness of the hug,

Because, to forgive, you were so slow.

Maybe there will be no hug,

Since friendship and forgiveness are as irrational as love.

Maybe we waited too long;

Now we are weak in ratio to how much our love was strong.

You miss my friendship. I know

You miss my friendship, the hug

Will be that; our passionate love

Hid the friendship, so the hug

Will be a feeling and a symbol of that,

Yet who knows that friendship and sex are not exactly the same

When, after years, you hug the one who broke your heart, and call them by their name.



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Yana Djin and Sharanya Manivannan are the 4th seed v. 13th seed contest in Bracket Beautiful.

Their lines have a wonderful delicacy, an overlooked quality in these paranoid, swaggering days of “hard knocks” political poetry and hoarse voices calling out from the real human to the real human in the avalanche of the continuing Modern-Against-Victorian backlash.

Edgar Poe, a poet more familiar with the “hard knocks” of life than most, opined that “delicacy” was poetry’s “eldorado.”

It is not that poetry is unable to do other things—but if you’ve studied your Aristotle and your logic, never mind your Plato, you understand that you want to do in poetry what poetry is able to do better than anything else.

If delicacy means keen-eared and sensitive, traits which are desirable in society, no matter what political party you swear to—and poetry as society’s glue spotlights delicacy better than any other intellectual activity—bring it on.

“Morning dew will dress each stem” by Yana Djin is as delicate as you’re likely to find, and this by Sharanya Manivannan is, too:

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

What is it that we mean by delicacy, exactly?  Is it possible to depict an indelicate act in sensitive writing?

Slugging it out on the floor
In the middle of the bar next door.

This, of course, has the advantage of “floor/door” pow! pow!

What about this?  “The delicate fist flew into his face.”

This only goes to show, perhaps, that delicacy is at the bottom of all attractive language—and it’s a hybrid quality; it can usefully combine with all sorts of things all day.

“Morning dew will dress each stem” has uses no person of Letters can deny—the delicacy of observing dew upon a stem is manifest in the delicacy of the speech of the poetry itself, which manifests rigor, and not merely “weakness,” as the delicate, could, in some instances, be described.

Scholars like to assign art to a century, and then say, you cannot do this anymore.  But originality is in every time period the same, breaking through every fence a mere scholar might erect.

This reminds me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but what of that?

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

In a very close contest, Sharanya Manivannan wins.


John Keats would find himself in this contemporary contest, this March Madness tournament, like waking briefly from a strange dream to a stranger one. We imagine him on a small hill with leaves all around him, hearing this spoken by a voice not his own:

“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

The 12th seeded poet unfortunate enough to be matched with Keats in the Beautiful Bracket is Jennifer Robertson, but there is no shame in her line,

“ocean after ocean after ocean”

Fate will have been kind to her, to match her against Keats, if she wins.  Some, I suppose, will want to travel to this tournament’s end, suffering the indignity of poetry playing against itself, fans yelling in the poet’s ears, in a setting of critical artificiality.

Fate is kind to Jennifer Robertson.

“ocean after ocean after ocean” wins.

Keats can go back to sleep.



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A painting can evoke a thousand poems. A line of poetry can evoke a painting.

Ann Leshy Wood, the second seed in the Beautiful Bracket, demonstrates this:

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

Ravi Shankar “What matters cannot remain.”

It is a lot to ask a poem to perform as part of itself. This is, of course, impossible, but competition of every kind is fraught with the same doubt.

As soon as we block off time, artificiality reigns, and all of us, in competition or not, are stuck forever in these tyrannies which either we, or time itself, makes. The natural deadlines wound as much as deadlines artificial and planned: every poem, every judgment, every look, every affectionate effort must end. Ann Wood’s herons will be called away from the bay. Ravi Shankar’s line will look for support before and after, in vain. These will not remain. But the oranges will rot forever. Rot is forever. Some things will remain.

A strange scent, of oranges, fills the arena.

Ann Leshy Wood wins.


Medha Singh brings a stunning line to the competition:

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

The insouciance and naturalness of the line nonetheless carries with it a rhythm the rhyming Romantic poets—even the best of them—would admire. This is the future of poetry, right here; it is natural speech which a Wordsworth or a Williams would cry out for, yet has a music a Yeats or Poe would envy. The fans of Medha Singh make a great, confident noise in the arena; they know she will be nearly impossible to beat, even though the Beautiful Bracket is full of great poets and lines.

Her opponent is a magnificent mind and poet, Philip Nikolayev, so Medha’s fans feel that stirring of anxiety fans feel before the starting whistle, even as they clamor and laugh in their boisterous exuberance. A certain quiet invades their numbers as they glance nervously at this:

“within its vast domain confined”

Truly we are confined. The sights and smells of the arena keep us here. Here there is no transcendence. Our fellow fans cannot help us. We are alone. We love being part of the friendly crowd, part of a vast domain confined, but we know at any moment we can be led away to ourselves, where doubts cry in us, alone. The arena becomes silent; every ceremony accounts, in a strange moment, for the individual in us all. Like syllables stepping through a line of verse, every member of the crowd reads:

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

We rise, stunned, from our seats. Programs and tickets flutter to the floor. Are we no longer confined? Outside, winter waits.

Medha Singh has won.



A terrible error occurred in American culture in the early 20th century: a profound turning away from the sentimental in aesthetics and life. The great poets blend the unsentimental and the sentimental—this is the whole of the tension which creates the dramatic. Significant art and sublime dramatic tension is the mixture of sentimental weeping and cruel, unsentimental revenge; of warmth, love, coldness, mistakes—comedic or tragic.

The poetry is good or bad; but necessary sentimentality, itself, cannot be bad. It was the Modernist error to cast away all of sentimentality as bad. Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson, Dickinson, Yeats, Teasdale, Millay, and the best of Eliot, are sentimental as hell, even as they are true and sublime. It isn’t sentimentality that is ever the problem; the absence of it informs that bad educated poetry (smart but frozen) ubiquitous since the 1930s, academically or politically respected, which we are obligated to like—wet petals on a wheel barrow, poetry unable, like the best of Yeats, to hold back emotion, because it has no emotion at all. Emotion may be implied, but there is no structural emotion—it’s chatter, not art.

If so much amateur rubbish outside the Academy seems sentimental, it is only a trick that this is somehow the fault of sentimentality; the sentimental is the default which hangs on in much well-meaning verse that is simply, for reasons other than sentimentality, just plain simplistic and bad.

If you don’t believe me, check the progress of “sentimental” in the OED—in the early 20th century that which was necessary for all art and life of high feeling morphed into a negative. It is no wonder the 20th century fell into immense crimes of cruelty.  All fanatics share this: they are touchy and defensive and overly serious and, in hidden ways, sentimental—to the point of not being so. Fanaticism is where the sentimental goes to hide and die. And imagine the dangers of fanaticism where all respectable, aesthetic, high brow society frowns on the sentimental.

All would agree we live in an angry, fanatical world now. The first step to fix things is extremely simple, because the great error which haunts us is simple, and therefore, great, and fiercely egregious, and blind. Bring the sentimental back into the fine arts.

This is not to say that all works should become overtly sentimental; it is only that sentimentality should never be isolated as bad, and destroyed. We feel happy, and this sentiment is all human life needs. The road to feeling happy is never sentimental all the time, but it would be silly to lose sight of the goal, or to take such long side routes that we completely lose sight of the goal, or reject whatever sentimental teaching joys we do meet on the road. John Lennon was both sentimentally loving in art and life—as well as cruel and sarcastic. The great artist is both. Lennon was more sentimental than Dylan—who was known for political protest and unsentimental lines like “it ain’t me, babe, it ain’t me you’re looking for, babe!” Yet Lennon sarcastically mocked Dylan (never mind Paul) to great effect. The sentimental never precludes its opposite. The deeply sentimental combined with sarcastic unsentimentally in appropriate ways lies at the center of wisdom in art and life.

Here is the Beautiful Bracket’s First Round action:

The no. 1 seed is Mary Angela Douglas, and her “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring,” is beautiful and sublime.

Her opponent is “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

Abhijit Khandkar brings to this contest the same powerful mingling of burning and nature; the “sea” is burning up the poem—the sacred (or secular?) offering—by “feeding” on it. In a transaction similar, but traveling in the opposite direction, the “one candle” burns (or grows) into “lilac in a perpetual spring.”

A lovely battle.

The Douglas is miraculous, optimistic, and moving; the Khandkar is pessimistic, naturalistic, and moving. Both lift with the same sort of religious awe. The “one candle” versus the “sea.” The “perpetual” versus the “ravenous.” Growing versus feeding.

Abhijit Khandkar is more in the poet’s skin, acting in a clear manner: “So I write this poem and feed it to…”

Mary Angela Douglas is the poet witnessing no action: “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

The sublime is the equivalency of great feeling with the great. What is “the great?” We are not sure until the sublime poem makes us feel, even as we are given to understand that the frozen alps, the horrible battle, the wide misty sea, the merciless winter, have no feelings for us at all. “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.” We, who have feelings, worship what does not. The sublime accuses us in divine, sentimental torture—we know, but do not know. We cry out—to what will never cry.

At last, in fearful meditation, we will ourselves to become one with the beautiful.

“One candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

The torture past, we achieve peace in the modest and the beautiful.

Mary Angela Douglas wins.


The rest of the Beautiful Bracket to come:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

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

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”



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Marilyn Chin

When it comes to poetry, lying is either good, or it isn’t.

There are several ways we can approach lying and poetry.

Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was very clever in his Defense of Poetry: poetry does not claim to tell the truth, so it “cannot lie.”

Plato, the social critic who condemned poetry, went to great lengths not to allow what would become Sidney’s excuse to wind its way into society. Plato said: no, poetry does lie, even if it does so unintentionally, and furthermore, careless or ignorant lying is worse than intentional lying—which may be a puzzling thing for Plato to say, until you realize: who would trust a pilot who can’t fly but thinks he can?  To trust ignorance in any matter of importance leads to our doom, whereas cunning, selfish, deception at least participates in knowing; unlike ignorance—a hijacker, to save himself, might save us.

The third approach, as an increasing number of contemporary poets might put it: we can forget about lying and poetry. Poetry is truth and my poetry tells the truth.

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

Gehringer’s opponent in the Life Bracket is:

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

We could see the modern day Plato perhaps objecting to the poetry of June Gehringer—but not necessarily because it lies. Isn’t June Gehringer telling the truth? Ultimately, Plato wanted to protect his idea of the Republic.  Both lies and truth, in their own way, can serve the long term good. Plato wanted the role-model gods in poetry to be depicted as brave, and not cowardly.  Since cowardice has more emotion than bravery, in Plato’s view, emotion was bad, and therefore emotional poetry was bad.

Is this emotional? “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

One can hear this spoken with no emotion at all.

Yet there does seem to be emotion in the expression itself—in the poetry.

Gehringer’s truth is an emotional, dramatic truth—of which Plato was wary.

We cannot believe Plato would be afraid of “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high.”

We have no idea whether if one of these wins, it will be a victory for a certain kind of philosophy.  There is a quiet charm in that “jet shining.”

We don’t know if this means the Republic will survive, but Alec Solomita wins.


Marilyn Chin is the author of the iconic, late 20th century poem, “How I Got That Name,” and she finished second to Ben Mazer in the 2012 Scarriet March Madness Tournament. She brings to this 2019 March Madness, the tourney made of fragments, this one which closes her famous poem:

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

Scarriet discovered Stephen Cole on Facebook. It’s a pity more don’t know his work.

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

This is a classic battle between classic architecture: “all that was/all that was” v. “I feel the/I hear the”

“Lavished” and “taken” packs a real punch, and the “wind-tides” and “cry of suicide brakes” sure is haunting.

This is too close to call.

Stephen Cole, in a puff of smoke lingering over Fremont’s Pass, wins.


Sam Sax has that drinking, slam poet vibe, and maybe he’s this century’s Dylan Thomas, we don’t know. His opponent is Dylan Thomas, in a twist of fate. Do not go gently into that March Madness. The ‘Dylan Thomas poet’ is known for those rueful, end-of-the-line truths.  Sam Sax brings it with:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

Hits it out of the park, doesn’t it?

The ‘Dylan Thomas poet’ sometimes sinks into hyperbole and sentimentality.  They either hit a home run, or fall down, striking out.

And, to speak for the Dylan Thomas poet is Dylan Thomas:

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

We all know what he means.

Sax and Thomas lean on each other, exhausted, after 15 rounds of fighting:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

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

Sam Sax has just enough!  Sam Sax advances!


Next up, the fourth and last bracket of play, the Beautiful Bracket—first round.

Then we’ll be down to 32 poets,and heading for the Sweet 16…





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Semeen Ali competes in the Life Bracket with 15 other poets

William Logan is known for fierce criticism.

His poetry is nicer.

His poetry is where his scholar smiles, that aging tour guide, who gently waves his hand. He has published a lot of poems, but the criticism is what he is known for.  His critical lash has stung. His poems? Not a mark.

His criticism is the offense, his poetry, the defense. His poems are thick walls to cover himself.  His critical reviews score big. His educated poetry defends against the long pass. As a poet, he belongs to the Difficult School, that briar patch established by Sir Geoffrey Hill, admired, but rarely entered, and when you get into it, you will die by scratches unless you exit with great difficulty—this is why Poe’s gardens were razed; to bad poets, everything is difficult, (even writing poetry), and therefore difficulty easily becomes a banner of the academic realm. The frowning briars are tenacious, like pride, and they are all that’s needed to keep the million flowers and their scents away.

Logan is not a bad poet, however; just one who is always looking over his shoulder. What if some offended poet intends a criticism as a form of revenge?  Logan’s poems dare not make a mistake; the dictionary is carefully consulted.

Because he is a good critic—agree, or not with him, he’s good—the law of aesthetics says Logan must be a good poet; poetry is what the critic in us writes. He seems to have decided contemporary poetry is mostly bad because it offends High Modernism; but where Pound was a critical crackpot, Logan is a critical lion; his defense of High Modernism has surpassed by great lengths what it ostensibly defends; he has forgot himself, gone into his humor and become a Poe (who, if read correctly, is funny; wit is criticism’s best weapon) or a Pope, or a Byron, and thank goodness he has! How dreary poetry would be today, without the prune and dance of William Logan.

Just as he escapes overrated High Modernism in his heated criticism, Logan occasionally escapes High Modernism in his poetry; but why he soars in criticism, and not in poetry, it is difficult to say. Perhaps his poetry is the diffident, abashed Dr. Jekyll to the criticism of his Mr. Hyde.  The split in Logan is artificial, since the natural split which once existed, between prose and verse, has closed up; the poets write in prose, too.  A hint of this truth is that when Logan writes formalist poetry, he’s much better.  He doesn’t want to sing so much in poetry, perhaps, because he doesn’t want to seem doubly odd: a Poe-like critic and a Poe-like poet.  He wants a little respectability, at least.

Logan is the no. 1 seed in the Life Bracket (the brackets are somewhat randomly named) and the line is from one of his formalist poems:

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

(It almost needs a comma after “then;” it is the pause right there that creates glory.)

It just so happens his opponent is Garrison Keillor. We found this by Keillor on FB:

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

There’s a greater aesthetic distance possible between two formalist lines than between any two lines of prose.  Have you noticed that?  The Keillor is delightful.  Starved for love, obsessed with sin, Sunlight almost did us in.

But Logan wins.


Danez Smith, the no. 2 seed in the Life Bracket, is a contemporary poet getting a lot of attention lately. His poetry doesn’t need verse. It has so much attitude.

“I call your mama mama”

Akhil Kaytal is also a contemporary poet who throws into poetry the best and funniest of what he finds.

“How long did India and Pakistan last?”

Attitude is really not about attitude. It’s about fact. “I call your mama mama” is a fact.  It’s not speculative.  The speculation naturally follows after. The speculation, the thinking, and the poetry, is implied. And this, really, sums up the respectable, contemporary, academic, vers libre view.

Is it really love when you call your lover’s mama mama? And when your imagination takes you far into the future, from where you ask one you loved if a little graffiti you made on a marble step is still there, you naturally want to know: How long did India and Pakistan last?

Danez Smith advances.


Divya Guha breaks our heart in ten seconds.

No, in ten words:

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

It doesn’t cry about the leaving—it discovers the leaving, which is better.

The contrast between the shaver (a device belonging to the body) and the laptop (a device belonging to a great deal else) is complex and effective. The “shaver missing” is the real blow; because of the sequence of things, we assume this is the first thing the poet notices that is gone, a device which is mundane—but intimates the domestic and the intimate—which makes the “gone too” poignant, if only because the “greedy” laptop can “hide” much more of a person, and whether it (or he) is gone, or not.

Guha, the third seed, tangles with Semeen Ali’s broader observation—also a discovery, and also poignant on a small scale:

“for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

Semeen Ali is the author, and we love the box-within-a-box-within-a-box aspect of her contribution. We think to ourselves, “how is it possible, really, that one minute contains a life?”  But the poet is very sly, because, after all, it is only “for a minute” this miraculous “minute” occurs.

Nine words by Semeen Ali against ten by Divya Guha.

We love both, but there is a little more happening with “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

Divya Guah will advance to the second round.


The sentiment expressed by the fourth seed, N Ravi Shankar, is overwhelming:

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

Who would write something like this, but someone very comfortable in their own skin?  Writing lovely poetry may only take one thing, and one thing, alone: don’t be uptight.

The pleasure evinced is such that it almost seems like wisdom.  Why is that?  When does the sensual become philosophy?  The great secret to this seems to hover within Shankar’s fond and rapturous lines.

Lily Swarn, another poet from India, counters with:

“The stink of poverty cowered in fear!”

This, too, has an uncanny strangeness about it.  It strikes us as marvelously original, as if the force of a personality, or the primitive cleverness of a god, were uttering divine poetry in a half-dreaming, prophetic trance.

The insouciant rhyme of “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby” gives it the edge.

R Ravi Shankar wins.

A lullaby roared by fans fills the arena.



Rupi Kaur v. Kim Gek Lin Short.

June Gehringer v. Alec Solomita

Marilyn Chin v. Stephen Cole

Sam Sax v. Dylan Thomas



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Meer Nair plays in the Mystery Bracket

Poetry charms us just as any other kind of speech does.  This should give us pause.  What is poetry, then?  How do we know we’re reading poetry?

In the First Round contest in the Mystery Bracket we have this, which is infinitely charming, though we are not really sure why:

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Michelina Di Martino is the poet.

Di Martino’s fans and supporters and followers resemble the followers of dionysus, which is to be expected. We cannot think of a more delirious meme than “Let us make love. Where are we?”  Frenzied acolytes make for a loud and enthusiastic fan base, which has to make Di Martino the favorite in this contest.

Her opponent is Meera Nair, who is a mother, a poet, and a movie actress.

Her is: “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

It is supremely beautiful—we could ponder this line for hours in a sweet fit of melancholy; the lake, as we will believe, will be drawn to the sea, and landscapes with both lake and sea invoke all the peace and longing we might expect when contemplating robust and watery nature as she lies upon the land.

If Di Martino thrills, as we contemplate unburdening ourselves in smoky, far off hills, Nair allows us to reflect in our rooms, with a window open to the air.  We consider things broad and wide, or trivial perhaps, concerning a lake, and gentle hills leading the watery confinement gurgling down to the sea.  We know Meera Nair’s fragment is poetry. We cannot be sure Michelina Di Martino’s is.  It is perhaps because the packed March Madness arena is filled with noise and confusion, and the warm, heart-rending screams of the crowd, that “Let us make love. Where are we?” wins.


Sukrita Kumar’s “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown” burns us with its mysterious wisdom.

What is known more acutely than fire? And what burns?  The unknown.  Everything is unknown to leaping flames. Unknown, the cavernous space filled with sparks, dark and cool above the conflagration which desperately attempts to warm and light our lives.

In stark contrast, Kushal Poddar’s: “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

What could be more different from “Flames are messengers,” a loud pronouncement from the god Vulcan, perhaps, words belonging to the center of the earth, roaring to us from the metal doors of old time? “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer” is the essence of affectionate, domestic tranquility, the lean cat eluding its kind master in the cooling shadows.

How to decide between these two states?

There is no time decide.  Only the impetuous result beneath the lights and clock in the old trembling arena of March Madness.

We smile when we read Kushal Poddar’s offering.  It warms our heart, and this warmth douses the flames.

Poddar will advance to the second round.


Ben Mazer is another demonstration that poetry’s force often lies away from whatever we commonly think of as poetry.  Mazer is the champion of a previous Scarriet March Madness, perhaps the greatest prize a poet today can claim.  Nobel? Pulitzer?  Everyone knows these prizes are political.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is the line the Mazer crowd wildly cheers from the rooftops of the Madness arena.

What is this poetic force that Mazer has?

There are so many ways for poetry to excel. But to excel, to stand out, to be regarded with awe, one must evince a quality, a mysterious quality, a strange combination of qualities, which teases the soul of the reader so they surrender almost immediately to the spell.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is all Mazer.  It is mesmerizing, but why?

We would venture to say that Mazer succeeds through the most profound introversion it is possible to evince.

The profound secret to Mazer’s success is simple.  The success is not simple, but the secret is.  And the secret is that Mazer proffers introversion to such an extreme degree, that the reader is disarmed, the reader’s blood pressure is reduced to near-zero, and in the resulting trance, the sweet poison is easily administered, and the spell effortlessly cast.

The great poet cannot be measured by rhymes, words, subject.  Or perhaps they can.  Anything can be quantified before the lynx eye.  But in this instance, as we contemplate the mystery that is the wonder of Mazer, we venture to say it is this: he is greater than nearly all of his peers in poetry (and any extreme in the realm of good taste can succeed in poetry) because his poetry is marked more by introversion than anyone else’s.

This is not to say that Mazer’s poetry cannot say bold or extroverted things.  It is the introverted life from which it comes which conquers.

One can see at once the advantage of introversion in poetry: the hush, the mystery, the unruffled beauty, the calm, the deep breathing, the concentration, the privacy, the reverie, the reverential, the quiet tension, the tender, abashed sinking into the unknown.

Mazer’s opponent is Nabina Das.  She has produced the for this bracket the one entry which might be intimates an actual mystery:

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

The future is blisteringly manifest: “where she later dangled.”  Or perhaps the dangling is done in fun?

We doubt it, for there is a menacing finality about the whole thing: “the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

The ambiguity would be more of a problem if the line were not so much fun in itself:

“Under the same” locks nicely into “ceiling fan from where” and the line travels straight up into the thin atmosphere of “she later dangled.”

It’s the kind of line which resembles a surfing wave—it belongs to nature almost as much as it belongs to ink:

“under the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

It is not introverted, by any means.  Not like this, anyway:

“her room retains the look of the room of a stranger”

Both lines could almost be from the same poem.  It is almost as if fate matched these lines in March Madness.

Both are neatly divided in two:

her room retains the look—of the room of a stranger.

under the same ceiling fan—from where she later dangled.

Both are masterpieces of aural architecture:

“room” and “look” and “room” from a group, as do “retains” and “stranger.”

“under” and “where she later” form a group, as do “same ceiling fan” and “dangled.”

It is too close to call.

Nabina Das defeats Ben Mazer!

Fans in the rooms are going crazy.


In the final, Mystery Bracket Round One contest, we have Richard Wilbur, and his famous “The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Richard Wilbur’s (1921-2017) opponent is Sridala Swami:

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

Richard Wilbur was a leading 20th century formalist, and we can see this in the exuberance of all those “a’s:” air, all, awash, angels. Not to mention the iambic pentameter: The MOR-ning AIR is ALL a-WASH with AN-gels.

Sridala is trying to do something quite different.

There are no angels. There is no morning air.

“There is only this book” and we are already post-modern, or is the a reference to what Dante, in his Vita Nuova, says is his “book of memory,” which creates the smaller book of his Vita Nuova?

Sridala’s line begins with three anapests: There is ON-ly this BOOK, and your ONE

And the caesura in the middle of the line is the spondee, ONE CHANCE—which is the perfect place to make a dramatic pause: you’ve got one chance, bub.

of SPEAK-ing to the WORLD is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

A long anapest: -ing to the WORLD, and then three iambs ends it: is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

If we read both lines aloud, we find both scan, the Wilbur with more concentrated force, but hers is equally strong, and more subtle.

Hers is speech within speech.  One chance.

His is the singularity of something supernatural, or perhaps merely descriptive, we see in, and around, the morning air.

Wilbur’s is more fanciful, but there is something beautifully somber and philosophically contemplative in Sridala Swami’s “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Sridala Swami wins.


Next up:  The Life and Beautiful Brackets.


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Jennifer Barber is a poet we know nothing about. How many poets across the Internet and the bookstores and the universities today clamor for our attention? How much are we expected to know about them? How much do we know about Sappho? Shakespeare? Homer? Only what scholars speculate. The very name of the poet could be made up. Homer? Shakespeare? They could be other people, their very names wrong. The ignorance which crawls towards us is vast.

Curiosity is rude. Jennifer Barber is the no. 1 seed in the Mysterious (or the Mystery) Bracket. Here’s her game:

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

When a poet wants to tell a truth, the hard work begins—the truth, being true, is not poetic; the poetic is only the dye which allows us to see the truth. The poet does not arrive at the truth; the poet only arrives at the poetic—arrives at “the dye” before they even know “the truth” they are tracking. This is why poetry is impossible; the dye must be exquisite enough to please, but it tracks a truth accidentally, since truth can’t be tracked; it’s already there, already understood by the non-poet; the poet can only fashion a dye—and hope it stains or covers properly what doesn’t need tracking. The experiment fails before it begins, because the truth is not what the experiment is after; the experiment is what the experiment is after. Most dyes hide the truth, the truth we already possess and don’t need; the poet qua poet pretends a useless dye may be emotionally akin to a useless truth: “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.”  This haunting line by Jennifer Barber is the best case scenario. 99.9% of poems are experiments which crumble before they begin, never mind finding a truth. Foolish rhetoric, the type of rhetoric which seeks to demolish another because they are not a Marxist or an atheist, or they don’t love you, actually has a better chance of success in producing a passable poem than one which attempts to pour a dye on a truth—any dye, any truth—as the poet “lets herself go,” far from newspapers and newspaper kinds of truths, composing her detached poem in a detached trance, or waking dream: this, more often than not, produces dye upon dye, a confusing, obscure, mess, or, just as bad, a naked truth, not poetic—precisely because of its nakedness, for no naked truth is poetic, even a truth offered while in the middle of a dream.

Why is Barber’s verse haunting? Because it successfully colors a truth—we experience, not the truth, but the dyed truth, so the experimental tracking of a truth has a chance of succeeding. We are haunted by an apparent truth which flees invisibly—except it is miraculously caught by the dye which Barber has added; we can wonder all we want which came first, the truth of the scene of a dream of a phone being put down soundlessly by a person who is important to us, or the lines themselves (the dye) but since truth is already present to all of us (making it the truth) we know the lines, not the truth, must have been what Barber discovered first, whether she thinks this is true, or not. And this is why poetry is impossible—why it is always an accident of words, an accident of a dye which through pure luck captures a truth. Finding a truth and then dressing up that truth with words, is, by the soundest logic, what the poet does. But we doubt this ever really happens. When we read, “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly,” we have no choice but to think that these particular words in their particular order made their entrance before the truth could even be said to exist, since truth does not care for such words; truth does not need to be dyed.

But this impossibility is resolved—where the poet is more than an accident-machine spitting out words—by speech.

If Barber speaks as a poet might speak, the stream of her speech might be cut and pasted to produce the desired poetic effect. That’s why the “Sure” is vital—(“Sure, it was a dream…”) Barber is speaking, not merely “using words,” and it is speech which is the bridge between mere accident and truth. Poetry is a highly evolved insanity—a conversation between two people in one individual. Speech blocks out truth—one cannot speak and apply dye to a truth—speech resolves the impossibility of poetry by ceasing to think truthfully, so that the dye is the speech, the message is the poetic itself, which does away with truth altogether. But the truth still exists, by default, in speech—in the logical connectedness of speech itself; just not as something being tracked. It is already there, and the speech is how the dye travels—the reader of poetry does not see a dye, but how the dye is infused into the colorless truth. Speech is further removed in order to resolve the impossibility of actually seeing the dyed truth; we only see the dye administered. Barber’s words please by their administration; the naked truth is not the real interest, nor is the “naked” dye—it is the movement of the dye (speech) which captures our attention.

The worst kind of poetry needs the metaphoric to seem poetic: a rain of tears, a horse of passion, a hotel of sorrow. The hotel is dyed with sorrow and the sorrow is dyed with hotel, and the “truth” of the poem—the sorrowful hotel—is the stained dye seen, but the dye works overtime in the presence of nothing. There is no poetic experience. There is only a double staining.

“Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.” has no metaphor; a poetic experience is sprayed into our consciousness by speech.

Barber’s worthy opponent in the first round of play is this by Sophia Naz:

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

Again, there is no metaphor—the “deviants and dervishes” joining with the river is accomplished through natural speech—a metaphor would imply a joining, but speech is more accurate; they “lie down the length of her,” which is different from joining—metaphor clumsily fuses, or joins, exactly as the dye fuses to an object, but the compromise of speech is better: “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her,” has but one, slight, metaphoric gesture: it is seen in calling the river “her” (the implied metaphor is ‘she is the river’) but this metaphoric gesture stops at the banks of the river—the rhyme of “river” with “her” and the line “deviants and dervishes of the river” create a poetic experience; the deviants and dervishes are close to the river, and they may feel the river is their mother, perhaps, but nothing so equivalently or metaphorically banal is forced upon the reader. Like Jennifer Barber, Sophia Naz has produced the highest order of poetry.

In a close contest, Barber advances.

In the second contest, Srividya Sivakumar has the unfortunate role of facing the no. 2 seed in the Mystery Bracket, Percy Shelley:

“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

This is one of the greatest lines of poetry ever written.

Here is Srividya:

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

This is a beautiful line of poetry—note the ‘r’ sound inhabiting the first foot of both trochaic words “searching” and “coral” before the run of “and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair,” with the ‘r’ sound appearing again at the line’s close, in ” lair,” as well as “dragon.”  Don’t you love it?

Srividya defeats Shelley!

Anything can happen in March Madness!

Next Up:

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


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


One of the contestants in the Bold Bracket—Kolkata’s great poet, Joie Bose

In the Bold Bracket, first round play has been prefaced by some wild fans’ marches—the “Fan March” is a tradition in Scarriet’s March Madness Tournament.

The crowds for Diane Lockward’s “The wife and the dog planned their escape” is a woman’s march for the ages—thousands of women dressed as canines, carrying signs “Woman’s Best Friend,” topless women with signs, “Topple the Patriarchy!” We have never seen anything like it. “Bold First Seed, Woman is the First Seed! Go Diane!” scream many placards.

Diane’s opponent is sixteenth seeded Aaron Poochigian, a Classics professor who translates from Ancient Greek, and writes narrative verse—which sounds like contemporary prose—we don’t know how some poets manage this, but they do, rhyming only for themselves, not for me and you. But into the Madness comes this, beating its Homeric drums: “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.” Unfortunately, Homer did not write in English—attempting to write like this, Byron should be the model; if one is to jangle and jingle in a narrative, one must go about it self-consciously, and make a whimsical pact with the reader. This type of poetry will never work if you boss the reader around with Miltonic airs; Poochigian tells the reader to “hear” a “squeaking,”  a “squeaking” which sounds “like hinges,” while simultaneously telling the reader to “hear the Sirens calling,” a feminine rhyme (they are Sirens, after all) echoing “spalling.” The tone is pedantic, which is unfortunate, because the meter is really good—note all the wonderful trochees: “spalling, margin, squeaking, hinges, hear the, Sirens, calling.” He has a good ear; now Poochigian needs to let his hair down and have fun; drop the pretense and study Byron.

The Diane Lockward fans are relentless, mocking the use of the word, “spalling;” they feel Diane has nothing to fear from Poochigian’s nerdy and pretentious versifying—“The wife and the dog planned their escape” is accessible, thrilling, and nuanced—delightful as we imagine how a dog and a wife, as animal and human, might “plan” in secret to escape the husband.

Diane’s fans are right. She wins easily against  “hinges squeaking” “beyond the round world’s spalling margin.”

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” advances to the second round of play.

Also in the Bold bracket, No. 2 seed Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” clashes with Hoshang Merchant “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing.” The delight is the sweet resignation conveyed, even as “wild” is the adjective—a truly great line of poetry. But Sundan’s “red” has produced an uncanny originality and force; a transcendent urgency emboldens his red shirted followers into a frenzy; near-riots occur throughout the day outside the arena—the Riot Muse Police are called. Inside the arena, Aseem Sundan confidently wins.

In the third Bold Bracket contest, it is Menka Shivdasani “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.” versus Linda Ashok “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Both contestants evince the quotidian: Menka is cooking (dangerously?) and Linda is suggesting an appointment (dangerously?)  In both cases, women are daring us not to see them as ordinary; the strange or the threatening within a common circumstance threatens to happen, or merely happens to threaten. Do not take the woman, or any chore, or her day, or any action she might be doing, for granted. Linda Ashok’s is more interactive; it is less boastful, and more potentially thrilling—a sexual encounter which neither party will remember, or regret, is implied, but it could be any number of things the poet wants. Linda cools her opponent—and with cool concision, makes an appointment with victory. Linda Ashok moves onto the second round of play.

In our fourth Bold bracket game, It’s John Milton versus Edgar Poe.

Milton’s “Paradise Regained” excerpt is a paean to glory:

“Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

Poe used Milton’s “Paradise Lost” as his example when Poe issued his famous “a long poem does not exist” formula; Poe felt no fear in puncturing poets of reputation; and elsewhere he found fault with Milton’s abstractions and angels. Is this contest a chance for Milton to get his revenge?

The robed followers of Milton file into the March Madness library where they chant, while dreaming. They even sing Milton’s glory in vestibules. Some are dressed as angels, with play wooden swords. One sign says, “Long Poems Do Exist!”

Poe’s march is large and ebony-endowed. No zombies, vampires, or werewolves, because Poe did not actually write about such things. Good taste was everything to Poe. “Poe was murdered!” reads one placard. “Poe Has Been Slandered by the Literary Establishment as a Drunk and a Drug Addict!” Some hand out copies of Poe’s lovely and sober handwriting to repair the genius’s distorted reputation.

The game should be amazing. A few fights break out between Baltimore Ravens jerseys with a sign “Poe was Murdered in Baltimore! Re-open the Case!” and robed rebel angels. A beautiful woman dressed as Satan is arrested.

Poe: “Over the mountains/of the moon./Down the valley of the shadow”

Milton: “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

“Glory,” Milton says, is the only “reward” which “excites to high attempts” the “flame,” and “flame,” we assume, stands for “glory.” So “glory” is the only thing which “excites” “glory” to “glory?” Or is “flame” the human soul, or is it human aspiration? The whole thing does sound “glorious,” if a bit abstract. Milton’s iambic line defends the trochaic “glory” in terms of rhythm quite nicely.

Poe’s Bold bracket entry has an immediate, haunting quality, pure and soundless, despite its cry. Yet Milton’s bold flame and rhythm are also silently and scarily glorious.

Poe is more visually pleasing than Milton—“Glory” in the abstract cannot quite compete with mountains and shadow—and Poe’s rhythm is snakily titanic, as well.

Poe, as hell erupts, wins.

Daipayan Nair is matched up against Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” one of the boldest and best known lines in all of poetry.

Daipayan Nair is bold as well: “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Mr. Larkin states a pessimistic fact. Daipayan is not stating a fact, but it is true what he says; life is a long search in which we find neither our birth nor our death, though we always have a feeling we will. “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death” says this beautifully.

Daipayan Nair wins. Larkin’s followers throw papers about in the library in protest.

Joie Bose and Eliana Vanessa tangle with evocations which vibrate the throat and tickle the brain:

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

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

This is a clash in a singing cave. Criticism, to go and judge these women poets, must be sinning and brave.

Magic beauty from New Orleans (Eliana) and Kolkata (Joie) seethe in epic dimensions; color whips up in darkness.

Both of these make us wonder—love as fable, treasure, and darkness. The choice between “turning stones in the rain” and “listening to the hum of…skulls” is intriguing; there is no choice in “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love;” there is fable, treasure, and darkness, and the inevitable blending of the three. Is this more fantastic than the “hum of skulls” and “turning stones in the rain?” Criticism can hardly decide. Intoxicating odors linger from candles. The atmosphere is heavy. Fans can hardly see. They feel the contest on their skin. They doubt from start to finish. The game proceeds in waves.

Both Kolkata and New Orleans suggest the strange and the ambiguous, but “the fable” of Joie Bose finally has more coherence—and yet there is something about those wet stones and humming skulls.

Vanessa drowns Bose at the singing end, and moves to the second round. Scarves and weeping.

Robin Morgan is suffering from illness, and with a tenacity which puts fear in her opponents, she brings to the loud arena, “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Robin Richardson, her opponent in the First Round Bold Bracket, looks around to find what she is playing: it is both large and small.

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

Ambiguity versus ambiguity. One is very powerful. One is more hesitant, and says please.

Robin Richardson, in a wink, manages to destroy and create. She wins.

The final contest in the Bold Bracket features one name versus three, a living poet living out the ambiguity of her time against one certain, in the grave:

Walter Savage Landor thunders from the tomb, “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife” and Khalypso, doubtfully, “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

And, doubtfully, since all Madness must be so, Khalypso, in a flurry of gasps, wins.



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The theater is dark. Darkness makes us wary.

Why not be theater which plays the scary?

Aesthetically, it’s best to bring the lights down;

Unfortunately for jester, romancer and clown,

Unfortunately for joy, melting in tears,

Darkness is best for terror and fears.

The lecture coughs, and is too slow.

Genius bleeds the anxiety of Poe.

The golden idea and the silver speech

Need separate parts to connect and teach—

But we—in the dark, the audience, here—

Are one. Fantasy is atmosphere.


Image result for heaven in renaissance painting

Where there is heaven and earth,

Heaven is cold—we measure its worth

By snow on churches melting in April.

Ice covered branches are beautiful.

The hope is the ice will be gone soon.

Where there is earth, there is only June

And summer’s false, sunny promise of green:

Death. In summer, heaven is no longer seen.

In the autumn, mortal earth rebels;

The liquid ripening of curling husks and shells

Fills up hunger with eternity.

We eat duplication ravenously.

Now snow falls on the churches again.

In spring, between earth and heaven,

Heaven gives us the bad news. We know

Heaven, too, is false. Like earth. Like snow.





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What you say, you cannot see,

Trapped in the sound of your poetry.

No matter how much I want

To know, my thinking is ignorant.

Something beyond us loves—

This is what religion proves,

When truth, as beauty, makes us feel

Partial things we see are real—

Beauty, which we sometimes see,

Is translated into poetry,

The milky all and the watery all

In a star beside a waterfall.

Beauty, in a second beauty, consists,

In the same way truth in beauty exists,

When beauty drops dreamily into sound.

When I tried to see beauty, I found

Nothing in this poetry, proving it weak

And ignorant. Truth doesn’t speak.

I drag her statue to the ground,

In obedience to my poem’s sound;

I look, up close, at the beautiful head,

Resembling a wrinkled cry, instead.

My poem, I heard, is ignorant and weak,

Ending the moment it started to speak.









Save me from this vanity.

This vanity is such an oddity,

Given to me by Jim Morrison and the Doors.

This marketplace of ideas, lovely ideas from distant shores,

Giving me everything,

Giving me in poetry what poetry adores.

Which. Which. Which.

Which now, centrally,

In the proud center of myself, inside the proud me,

In the center of myself, is the secret of insanity.

A mirror looks at itself. The great D minor concerto in G

Called out to me for the longest time,

As if it couldn’t. As if the “long time” were itself a crime.

I listened. I ignored others for a long time.

I asked no one if I could be excused. I made a motion to leave

And retracting that, I did.

It is important these things, in my poems, that I hid—

Because these things dare to occupy my time—

Even in my poems, they did—

Introversion among objects the greatest crime—

Important you get to know these things now;

They are not mine, but I am going to show them to you, anyhow.

Franz Joseph Hayden!

Send in, without further ado, your 100th symphony.

Joe! I hear from the fat yellow sun you prefer a major key.

Or, the forceful minor.

Polite, we had Jim Morrison over for dinner.

We heard the fine clatter of geese far away.



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Strong houses are history. There’s no mourning or loss.

Small yards of vines, shrubbery, moss,

Offer dignity. The wide, green lawn

Seems wrong here. Crawling nature keeps crawling on.

History camps here. It’s not gone.

These homes, handsome, quiet, shutters painted black,

May not take us in, but they take us back.

In books we read of the calm, deliberate start

Of cold people and boxes. The precise seventeenth century heart.

The English who ruled the seas

And India, and befriended Muslims, are now the miniatures of these.

We use the same mathematical phrases

As old empires’ indominatable phases.

Chinese fans and vases

Decorate New England houses.

We put older civilizations inside ours.

A disciplined dome attracts a million stars.

A dark, deepening, New England, chill

Invades frozen April.

They said the south would win. They lied.

Last winter, I spied

Koi beneath the ice—I couldn’t believe they hadn’t died.

Icy living is icy law.

Melting brings trouble. Passionate love, the painful thaw.

Cold soul! Dearest love! I’ve never seen you cry.

If warmth comes here, the things we love will die.





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A department official loves a department official.

The department known to be the most beautiful

Has noticed something unofficial.

Filled with beautiful officials, this department

Gives every other department what they want:

Forms to investigate lawyers, or weaponize a taunt,

Dreams among the blue forms that court you,

Poems on red paper for officials who report you.

This beautiful official will give you whatever you want.

When the beautiful department noticed an official

Writing words that were unofficial

To a beautiful lower official,

They had to decide: was it beautiful?

They asked every official

If it was beautiful enough

To be unofficial. Or official. Was it love?

The beautiful officials must decide.

“Be kind to me!” the lowly official cried.

“First, fill out this form for love. Then, fill out this form for pride.

And last, fill out this form for beauty. For beauty has died.”




I loved her. I did. How could I not know it?

But she didn’t want children, and she wasn’t a poet.

I loved what did not create.

But the world is limited. I couldn’t wait.

I should have loved you.

I loved what I did not create.

Love is finding something in someone else—isn’t that great?

Sexual love is a piece larger than the rest.

Kissing the one you love—that piece is definitely the best.

Where I live, sometimes I chance to find

Charismatic presence. On the internet I find the mind,

A beautiful poet beneath a distant sun

In a land made of English poetry—but a different one.

Mind and body are scattered. It takes time

For the world to harmonize, drink clear water, and rhyme.

The world is shrinking. The human race is coming up.

Soon we will drink from the same burning cup.

We’ll love, and create

The whole world.  But her? That’s not her fate.




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Nice people want to fuck

At the drop of a hat.

But to be nice, you can’t be doing that.

And anyway, you can be nice, but your life is shitty

And you’re not that pretty.

And the pretty and the privileged are hated

When they get too elated.

The latest evolutionary science proves

The human being emerges, superior, because it loves.

Trust is a drug, and makes participants high:

Female bonobos make each other sigh.

Chimpanzees ambush and kill,

And human males will indulge in that thrill.

The evolution of trust contributes to lust,

But the value of trust needs lack of trust,

So there is no way to get away.

My love and I wanted to get away

Below the Congo, where the bonobos play.

In that vast jungle, fruits are plenty,

And competition? Well, there isn’t any.

I observed, for a week, or two.

You aren’t going to like my review.

You aren’t going to like what I wrote,

Lying down, in the sun, in the back of my boat.


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If you want to know what I think of you,

You’ll have to wait for my poem.

I admit I thought I knew you

By everything you did to me.

Poets, who in their poems, use actions and imagery

In competition with real actions and imagery, fly too close to the sun.

I just talk, and in the dark, with a syllable or two, it’s done.

Everyone needs to leave home.

My solid, middle class mother spoiled me.

I found my independence writing poetry.

I cannot write poems on my family—

Mawkish, inflamed, terrible.

I compete with strangers, those dead poets, who are beautiful.

The world let them write their exiled, passionate verse,

And since I am passionate and strange, I can do no worse.

Poetry is a selfish escape.

Practice letters, practice emotions, you old-fashioned ape.

Poetry formed my hope, and I left my comfortable home.

Poetry gave me the silly confidence to find you.

Now an unkind look from you

Is worth all the critics in Greece, and all the poets in Rome.

Your judgment fills me with sweet dread.

What are you thinking?

A poem is a stone, a statue,

But life is always bubbling and blinking.

And now what are you thinking?

Oh Muses! I wish I knew.


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Now it finally comes to this—

Never more will the two of us kiss,

And my dreams of literary fame

Are gone, and all ambitions and writings seem the same,

And nothing I read, or feel, seems new.

But I still have sentimental feelings for you.

Sentimentality in respectable writing is not allowed,

Nor in cunning art: smudges of yellow in the large black cloud.

Law examines what you did,

And what forced you to do it,

But not the long, tortured, sentimental reasons you did what you did.

You always made light of unreasonable fear.

You became law. You laughed a hollow laugh. The sentimental in you died.

You decided to hate, not forgive—after you broke down and cried.


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“They that have power to hurt and will do none” Shakespeare

Those who want to hurt, but cannot,

Their feeling never expressed with wit,

The humorless Marxist who resents the rich,

The social wannabe with an introvert’s itch—

Full of rich feeling, but still, a bitch,

This, the worst type of human being,

And when they blow, you don’t believe what you’re seeing.

They finally, with murderous fury, attack the weakling,

Who cannot fight back, who cannot act or sing,

But adores the source, the one who can,

The one the bitch hates.  But she can’t touch that man.





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A woman’s makeup is the world we know.

Secrets are nothing. All is show.

Darling, take off the sun, and put on the night,

Where the stars speak and the shadows are bright.

Today I saw a woman applying makeup on the train.

Sure, I watched her, and I would do it again.

I was filled with wonder, that at first she was plain,

And then a beauty was sitting on the train.

This is what we want from love, nine times out of ten.

Take it off. But please, put it on, again.

What is artificial?  Everything. Light is light—the sun

Or ugly light bulbs—my indoor flower’s sun.

Light is light—and lust is lust.

Nothing’s real. We fall.

The result, the way it looks, is all.

Do your eyes—I trust

It is you—isn’t it you?—and if it’s not you,

You look good in makeup, too.





Image result for castle in renaissance painting

Never you, alone.

Alone? No, that’s not what you’ll be.

Not even love will love you, alone.

Alone, you have thoughts which stretch to eternity.

You need safety. Love which protects you.

Everyone hears every musical tone.

But these notes are not for you, though you listen to them, alone.

Music, which is made for others, loves you.

Even love, looking at you, cannot ever love you alone.

You cling to what has the power to take your safety away.

Innocence requires vigilance

And only vigilance is skillful, and knows what the music should say.

Only vigilance is love.

Protect, and be protected.

Only protection loves.

Loved and protected,

By fortress, swords, laws, and lands.

Alone? You are not alone.

And this is what the one who loves you never understands.




Image result for lord byron and painting

This poem, as good as I’ve ever written,

Is not for everyone. You, for instance,

Reputed for—well, some call it poetry—

Are jealous, even afraid of me,

So you won’t read it, because if you do,

You will feel inadequate and depressed.

This poem, then, is obviously not for you.

This poem, in fact, is not for any of those

Who pass off those half-rhymes, and that shuffling prose,

As poetry, lecturing in mawkish imagery, oh shit,

Not for that mediocre tribe is this poem it.

They may receive praise from their unctuous friends;

However, in this poem, their fake reputation ends,

As they are forced to read

An actual poem, not some social need.

“Read my poem!” they insanely cry,

When they, themselves, don’t have an ear, or an eye.

Wave after wave of precious worlds,

The silver blinking of the elite stars,

Crawl past, just visible, so they might see,

The point. The fact. The gnawing mystery.

You should know this poem isn’t for

Heroic reasons for bravery and war.

There are none. It’s the same as when music is good;

It’s precisely because pleasure—

And pleasure’s all the same—can’t be understood.

Attempt to put words to pleasure, and you will show

What the smiling, silent, satisfied know

About poetry—its technique

Is the thing—it’s never what you speak.

Content is crazy, and method is even more mysterious, still;

But if you want me to explain the content, I will.

Because what else can I do?

This poem is not for everyone. Not even you.

And this is what this poem is about.

I loved you. You hurt me. So get out.

Who is this poem for? A tiny audience.

A bragging insult will make your audience small

Is the focus of this poem, and that’s all.

If the poem is successful, I’ll be alone. I can relax, and grieve.

Are you still here? I thought I told you to leave.



Image result for mystery on the train in painting

It is late. The calm day

Has slid into the milky way

And we are warmly surrounded by stars.

This warm night with distant voices

Makes me think of sex, and choices.

The ugly all the way up

To the very sexy. I cannot stop

Thinking of the sexual and the sexy,

But her, especially.

Her lips will return to dust,

Her eyes that love, and also must,

Her fragile beauty, of all, the best,

Her beauty deathless, more deathless than the rest.

All the sexual is sexual in vain

If there isn’t somebody sexy on the train.

Billie Holiday said, “Don’t explain,”

Because no one can. A warm rain

Falls. The sexual is sexual in vain.

The sexual must be sexy, and when it is,

Her beauty wins, beauty eclipsing

Everything. The stars. The rain. The love. The kissing.



Image result for medusa

That’s the one who doesn’t love.

My love was kindly desire, and when I presented

My charm and my libido, she consented.

I asked for more intimacy, and she relented.

I asked for her song, but she said she didn’t sing.

I asked for her story; her past had too much sting.

I asked her to remember us,

But she wasn’t good at remembering.

I asked her. I pleaded and asked,

Because I was in love. But she scorned, or laughed.

The more I fawned,

The more she yawned.

The more I wanted,

The less she gave, and the less she wanted.

The more I wailed at her wall,

The more she didn’t care for me at all.

The more I worshiped, as if she were God,

The more silent she was, like God.

But she had given in so many times—

To my desires, to my observant rhymes—

Something in her had to move

Against my insulting, superior love.

Eventually her sense of self would spring back.

She took revenge on my innocent love.

On the defensive for too long, she had to attack.

She did. I died. She did not look back.





Love is two pathetic losers making themselves feel special.

Hate, hurt by the wrongs of the world, is beautiful.

Hate, enraged, by wrongs, repairs the wrongs.

You’ve lingered here for a day, listening to songs.

You’ve been to the sunset, and think you are beautiful, too.

But now the night begins. There’s a lot of work to do.

Don’t confuse your spouting of morality with morality.

Don’t confuse anxious, useless, love with crazy, useful hate.

No one escapes ignorance; no one escapes the fee.

Doing good means others—not you—don’t have to wait.

So, goodbye. Do some good. I’ll see you in a while.

Be sad. Frown. Figure things out. Never mind the smile.

Never mind frivolous love, which keeps you up at night.

A long sleep with dreams is better. And the dreams are always right.




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Someone must say you can love before you can love.
Love is not the breaking of the law—or the law,
Love is what the law permits.
Whatever lovers allow
Is love. The approval itself, is love.
Love does not approve. Love wants the approval.
No approval is love’s removal.
Someone must say you can love before you can love.
After Valentine’s day, after the money and the flowers,
After dark dinners and clumsy aftermaths, lingered over for hours,
Only then, may the birds’ safety, upon the highest tree,
Give approval to you, and comity to me,
When, stripped of our pride, and our gallantry,
We linger by the tamarind tree.
Someone must say the poem out loud before there is poetry.


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After the child has learned his alphabet and become fluent in their native tongue, when a desire to be a writer takes over, what is the “literacy” which comes next?

There are stages of literacy in which proficiency surpasses itself, but usually we stop short, or venture outward into a verbosity without order.

The order of the alphabet, the sentence, the paragraph—for prose; the line—in the more ordered, or perhaps messier, poetry, is not impressive; it is merely the literacy of anyone—the student, the rank amateur, the mediocre scribbler.

What is the further literacy which marks the pro?

Are there measurable and greater stages? And of what do they consist?  Larger vocabulary? Greater life experiences? Wider reading?

Yes, but does this sum it up?

It’s rather commonplace to think of the novel as merely a series of letters, or epistles—some put this as the origin as the novel; Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein this way.

The great writer rests on this as their crutch—the hidden progress they made from the alphabet to the missive.

All one has to do is write correspondence, and the letter of correspondence is the unit—and enough of these allows the novel, or short story, to exist.

But the poet is lost in the wilderness. The line is a meager unit, but it’s all the poet has. The stanza has no internal organization, per se, except a rhyme, or a refrain—but today these devices are ones poets almost entirely reject. Also, the stanza isn’t much lengthier than a line.

But there is a unit which the poets, even the modern ones, have been using, and rather secretly.

This unit is the sonnet.

Think of the most famous poems in the canon.

Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind is 5 sonnets strung together.

As is the Ode to a Grecian Urn by Keats: 5 sonnets.

Eliot’s Prufrock is 11 sonnets.

Poe’s Raven, when you break its long line in half, is 15 sonnets.

We remember Poe saying the Raven was an ideal length for the popular poem—108 lines.  One could see this unique work of Poe’s as a sonnet-slayer. The sonnet emerges uneasily from it, and it must be admitted that calling any lyric poem an ‘X number of sonnets’ is not always proper, or simple.

Plath’s Daddy is, as we might expect, a formal monstrosity, 4-5 unwieldy sonnets, threatening all the time to be a greater number of shorter sonnets, or murdered sonnets bleeding into each other, even as the unit, the sonnet, is glimpsed; her poem is undermining, and embracing, the sonnet-form as a unit, simultaneously; the poem is both extremely formalist, yet subversive in its formalism—and the sonnet is the underlying reason.

Ginsberg’s Howl is also roughly 15 sonnets—that is, the better known, first, part of the poem equals 15 sonnets. The whole of the poem is 21 sonnets.  The second (Moloch!) and third (Carl Solomon!) parts of Howl are 3 sonnets each. The more famous part, the first one, lacks cohesion—its disordered rebellion finally fails to find poetic unity.  This probably increased its notoriety as a modern, or post-modern work, but there is something which happens when poems are rebellious—they merely sink into prose.

But the point here is that every well-known lyric poem in English is perhaps best understood as a sequence of sonnets—not lines.

And we don’t even have to mention the sonnet in literature itself—the giants who used it: Shakespeare, Milton, Michelangelo, Dante, Petrarch, Sidney, Wordsworth, Yeats, Millay; and what was Dickinson, writing, really, if not the sonnet? How many significant poems are, if not sonnets, precisely, near-sonnets?

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address consists of three sonnets, with each sonnet corresponding to the three rhetorical turns made in the address, 1) The civil war testing the great proposition 2) We cannot dedicate, we cannot hallow, this ground 3) But we will dedicate, and what we dedicate will not perish.

And wonderful coincidence! An excellent piece on the sonnet’s effect on modern and contemporary poetics, “Petrarch’s Hangover, An Argument in Five Sonnets,” by Monica Youn, was just published this week. Here it is.

The secret literacy of great poetry?

The unit of poetry is not the line, but the sonnet.








Image result for february in renaissance painting

The invasion of the past
Looks like it’s going to last.
I had the best, but you went away.
The winter won’t leave. March is repeating February. It’s
Yesterday every day.
What am I going to do?
My mind keeps looking for you
In the vast spaces of yesterday’s sea,
Which keeps coming back to me.
The ocean keeps having its say.
The winter won’t leave. March is repeating February. It’s
Yesterday every day.
Why don’t you come, and bring the past with you?
The ocean keeps coming back this way,
The way it does every day of the year,
Stretching back to when love was unruly.
I don’t know what you want to say,
But it doesn’t matter. March is repeating February. It’s
Yesterday every day.


Image result for bluebeard's mansion in painting and drawing

Her nap went on forever—

Is forever tedious or sublime?

The sublimity of forever

Will be tedious—a sublimely dull time.

I don’t think she was bored,

When all afternoon, she slept.

She had been bored, I know,

Had she made the beds and swept—

Seven beds in every chamber,

Six beds in the dark and lofty hall,

The heart of a cavernous mansion,

With Bluebeard on the wall.

Sleeping is unlearned—

We do it lovingly, and then

We stand among the learned, again.

In dreams, the highest logic is made,

The same logic we discern

In Nietzsche’s Eternal Return,

To find each lonely bed, unmade,

With beauty wandering up and down

Dim halls, singing, in a radiant dressing gown.

In sleep, we dreamily hunt the deer,

The deer hides in fields of wheat,

Sleep making everything near,

The day, the deer, on silent feet,

The low shadows, just as fleet.

The door is more logical now.

The mist in winter—but how?

By dreams, dreams are accordingly fed,

By a secret love, or a secret dread,

Of hunting. She will find

A woman changed to a deer in her mind.

In the shortest nap,

She can see inside seeing,

The one deer, and then all of them, fleeing.

She can pin down anxiety, symbol, map,

And arrive at the essence of her being,

And in a moment, asleep, feel

Things more memorable and real

Than the dream recording the life:

Kindness. Sleep. Hunting’s feverish strife.

Who can make themselves coldly themselves, in a cold and seamless life?

She sleeps by the sleepy lake in the sleepy shade.

Was it merely a nap, or death?

Asleep, immortal,

I watch her through the crimson portal.

In the brain, there was life.

For a time, there was life.

Sublime, sublime, even all the time,

In her dream, and in that life.







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Time goes back without you.

It is interested in what all that going forward meant.

It finds the two of you—you and her—there you are,

Looking as you were. The lake. The trees. The cemetery’s descent.

The two of you walk slowly. It’s almost time for the moon

To rise. Talk. Kissing. Talk. More kissing, soon.

The rise, a joke or two, the lake, brown, and small,

More like a pond. Time hardly remembers it at all.

Time gets back, and tells you all that was seen.

“This is what I saw.”

You listen in awe;

Time seeing what it once saw: what does it mean?

“The sun was setting, but you could see and smell the green.”

Time had been there, had really gone back. You feast

On what he says. “Did she love me? How did she look?”

But he speaks of her the least.

He seems to be remembering the past from a book,

Or worse, only from memory, and the pain it took,

And soon you lose patience. “What did you want me to do?”

Time asks. “She was there. But not really with you.”

And that was it. It really is what you fear. It’s true.

Time is kind before, not after. Life does not belong to you.




Tell me about your love

Who inspired all these poems

I read, day after day;

Give me her identity in the crudest terms,

Name, age, background, habits, picture,

Come on, what do you say?

True, a certain amount of privacy

Is the social reality of love’s rarest poetry,

But as one who writes anguished love poetry, too,

As a lover first, a poet, second, can I get this information from you?

Love is the highest curiosity there is,

And as long as there is curiosity, there is hope;

So I’m curious, also as a poet, since the poet should be curious, too,

And since you admire my poetry, perhaps my request will not seem rude?

Beethoven composed on long ramblings.

Can you see him? Slowing, then stumbling on the trail

As he first glimpses in his heart that melody unable to fail?

We know he was a composer first. Heartbreak, that dark path,

His music didn’t walk down. Inspiration is the highest calling.

Show me her picture. Just one picture. I want to see if I laugh.







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