MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

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It’s here once again.  Poetry March Madness!!

Previously, Scarriet has used Best American Poetry Series poems, Speeches by Aesthetic Philosophers, and poems of, and inspired by, Romanticism

This year, our tenth!—and we’ve done this once before—lines of poetry compete. 

The great majority of these poets are living contemporaries, but we have thrown in some of the famous dead, just to mix things up.

The line is the unit of poetry for ancients and moderns alike—moderns have argued for other units: the sentence, the breath—but to keep it simple, here we have fragments, or parts, of poems.

Is the poem better when the poetic dwells in all parts, as well as the whole?  I don’t see how we could say otherwise.

What makes part of a poem good?

Is it the same qualities which makes the whole poem good?

A poem’s excellent and consistent rhythm, by necessity, makes itself felt both throughout the poem and in its parts.

A poem’s excellent rhetoric can be strong as a whole, but weaker in its parts—since the whole understanding is not necessarily seen in pieces.

This is why, perhaps, the older, formalist poets, are better in their quotations and fragments than poets are today.

But this may be nothing but the wildest speculation.

Perhaps rhythm should become important, again, since rhetoric and rhythm do not have to be at war—rhythm enhances rhetoric, in fact.

Some would say modern poetry has set rhythm free.

No matter the quality under examination, however, any part of a poem can charm as a poem—with every quality a poem might possess.

Before we get to the brackets, let’s look at three examples in the 2019 tournament:

Milton’s “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame” is powerfully rhythmic in a manner the moderns no longer evince. It is like a goddess before which we kneel.

Sushmita Guptas “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love” also has rhythm, but this is not a goddess, but a flesh and blood woman, before which we kneel and adore.

Medha Singh’s “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on” is so different from Milton, it almost seems like a different art form; here is the sad and homely, with which we fall madly in love.

And now we present the 2019 March Madness poets:

I. THE BOLD BRACKET

Diane Lockward — “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

Aseem Sundan — “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

Menka Shivdasani — “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

John Milton — “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame”

Philip Larkin —“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

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

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

Khalypso — “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

Walter Savage Landor —“I strove with none, for none was worth my strife”

Robin Morgan — “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

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

Daipayan Nair — “I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Edgar Poe — “Over the mountains/of the moon,/Down the valley of the shadow”

Linda Ashok — “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Hoshang Merchant — “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

Aaron Poochigian — “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.”

****

II. THE MYSTERIOUS BRACKET

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

Percy Shelley —“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

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

Merryn Juliette — “grey as I am”

Michelina Di Martino — “Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sukrita Kumar — “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

Ben Mazer — “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

Richard Wilbur —“The morning air is all awash with angels.”

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

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

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

Meera Nair — “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

Ranjit Hoskote — “The nightingale doesn’t blame the gardener or the hunter:/Fate had decided spring would be its cage.”

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.”

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

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

III. THE LIFE BRACKET

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

Danez Smith — “i call your mama mama”

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

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

Rupi Kaur — “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

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.”

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

Sam Sax — “that you are reading this/must be enough”

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

Stephen Cole — “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.”

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

Kim Gek Lin Short —“If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

Lily Swarn — “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

Semeen Ali — “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

Akhil Katyal — “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

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

****

IV. THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET

Mary Angela Douglas — “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

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.”

Abhijit Khandkar — “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE NEW LITERACY

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A FEW REMARKS ON POETRY, CHRISTIANITY AND NEO-ROMANTICISM— PART ONE

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The following essay is offered as nothing more than an intoxicating drink, with a few unique qualities—most of the musings here you’ve probably heard before; sometimes it’s only emphasis that matters.

Recall the scene in the Meno: Socrates proves all knowledge is recollection (which means the soul is immortal) by suggesting to an unlearned child the means to answer a difficult geometrical problem.

The Platonist poet, Shelley, agrees:

Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.

Knowledge involves a certain humility; humans, the Platonist knows, do not invent; “reason” is merely “recollection,” or, as Shelley puts it, “enumeration of qualities already known.” Qualities are not invented, imagined, or discovered; qualities are, as the (grounded!) Romantic understands, “already known.” And the “imagination,” according to Shelley, “is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole.” Imagination is the “perception of the value of those qualities.” Imagination doesn’t create, or invent; the whole process is far more mundane (says the Romantic!); “perception of value, with an eye to “separately and as a whole.”

This is not easy stuff, but easier, since the Platonist grasps how really modest and small human intelligence is—the “imagination” is the “agent” perceiving the “value of qualities already known,” by using “reason” as an “instrument.”

This intoxicating drink I offer, with a little help from the Romantics, should calm and relax you, if nothing else.  Complexity, discovery, labor, be gone.

This is what I intend to do.  Give you a whiff of poetry, Christianity, and Neo-Romanticism.  You can even close your eyes and find your way.

You know this stuff.

You know it’s true.

But you’ve forgotten.

This essay, “A Few Remarks on Poetry, Christianity and Neo-Romanticism,” should not be taken any more seriously than if flowery letters stating the same should be found on the side of a bottle. When we say seriously, sometimes, what we drink, and the label embellishing it, is serious indeed, but not in the manner of truth, but only of pleasure—so drink, and become intoxicated, and see what pleasures follow; nothing found in this Scarriet essay will necessarily be true; you’ll find only random observations made by a poet for the sake of poetry.

The defense of poetry is, by now, an old practice; half-wits do it; narrowing the subject of poetry to include “Christianity and Neo-Romanticism” is nothing more, really, than an attempt to peak interest in the drink. Philosophy is my beach-reading; if “A Few Remarks” is philosophical, good—think of it as amusement in a philosophical vein.

To state the Neo-Romanticism theme simply: the first criterion of poetry is beauty, in all its particular attributes, heightened by the imagination, and everything else flows from this highest category.

Beauty is advantageous for two reasons—imagination must be present to an extraordinary degree, since imagination first began as the urgent invention to create happiness when faced with sorrow, and beauty is happiness; secondly, beauty also requires harmony, and therefore a certain order and rigor is always necessary to carry off that harmony. Beauty, then, keeps poetry enthusiastic, since happiness is the best motivator for enthusiasm, and at the same time beauty requires expertise and skill to add the necessary harmony to the imaginative attempts to be beautiful.

With Neo-Romanticism, then, beauty is the top category—for the practical reasons just given, and this stricture need not be onerous; beauty was chosen precisely because beauty is not onerous—and naturally, all other elements may of course be present (so modern irritation with the flimsy idealism and ineffectual prettiness of “beauty” does not get the upper hand), just to remember that beauty is the measure and general design which prevails, even as the frightening (with its sublime attributes), the humorous (profound, or sublime wit) and other qualities contribute, in descending order, to that harmonizing effect the Romantic poet is known for, whether it is Byron laughing, Coleridge weeping, Keats gasping, Shelley sighing, Wordsworth philosophizing, Tennyson singing, Millay regretting, Eliot whispering, or Mazer dipping his dreaming toe in the dreaming springs.

Harmony is the leading trait of beauty, and while most poetry refers to things outside of itself to win favor (the poet serving as a kind of rough, honest, social messenger) harmony demands all interest reside within the poem itself (easy political sentiments, in this case, fail) and so how the parts fit is crucial. We know instinctively, but not rationally, how the parts of a beautiful face harmonize to give us pleasure—the trick surpasses our understanding; the same nose on another face is merely a beautiful nose on an ugly face; judgment of the whole is all. The poem cannot refer; its beauty must be its own, and only harmony can achieve this, for ‘a poem’ as it exists as ‘a poem’ is not beautiful; several parts harmonizing is the poem’s only chance.

The poem as a self-enclosed entity is imprisoning—harmony must be freeing, even as it forces parts together to make them fit. Parts must dwell beside each other in interesting and freeing ways, even as they harmonize as a whole—this is the key to beauty. Eyes must be able to flash like stars and be vastly different from mouth, nose, and chin—even as these eyes live on the same beautiful face as those other features: the nose—what can it possibly have to do with the eyes? It’s all a mystery, but certainly not a trivial one, since beauty and harmony are certainly not trivial.

Yet in many respects the harmony of a face is quite simple—and almost without harmony—compared to the harmony of a piece of music, or a poem. All a pretty face needs is: pretty eyes, check, pretty nose, check, pretty chin, check. How do these harmonize? It is not so much harmony, as a mere list of pleasing attributes. More profound and mysterious by far is the notion of the face itself. What is a human face, and why does it please? Then we would need to posit material considerations which have nothing to with lofty notions of beauty and harmony, and yet, these considerations are profound nonetheless: the eyes see, the mouth speaks and tastes, etc. The face is part of a living thing thriving in the world. The beauty of an eye is a poetic idea, since the eye is an instrument for seeing, and yet the seeing action of the eye-instrument is part of its beauty—practical considerations harmonize with beauty.

Harmony is an ever-widening process, even as it belongs to the limits of its action as a harmonizing whole, with a defined beginning, middle, and end.

We must ask, therefore, what practical considerations belong to the poem, as we explore its harmony and beauty. The upper idea hiding a subordinate idea is a crucial way a poem harmonizes, just as a piece of great music allows us to hear different threads simultaneously.

This brings us to Christianity, as it pertains to practical life harmonizing with beauty.

The poet makes choices, in the imagination, to allow us to perceive the more beautiful result. The poet, like the priest, must take practical matters and somehow harmonize them with beauty for the sake of imaginative fancy.

The “virgin birth” is just such an imaginative fancy, which pleases the Christian—but not the atheist, who sneers, “Virgin birth? Bah! Impossible! this absurdity brings down, like a house of cards, your entire religion.”

But the Romantic, who might be an atheist, will, as a poet, nonetheless tell the objecting atheist, “please hold that thought.”  Is religion not a series of interconnecting ideas, rather than facts?

The “virgin birth” is not a fact, but an ideaan idea which lives in a universe of other ideas; Keats’ “negative capability” defines the poet as one who can entertain doubts, who can temporarily dwell where answers are suspended, so that fancy (imagination) has a chance to build a harmonizing aspect of things, which moves us happily forward into a better reality.

Religion is a poetic, not a factual, response, to the world.

Harmony and imagination is the religious way.

The factual world (virgin births do not occur) is not a poetic one.

Or it is, if God is a poet.

Secularism is the poet (as fact-master) attempting to be God (as fact-master).

Religion posits God as the one true poet.

For virgin births do occur in the factual world.

The universe itself was a virgin birth. No scientist knows how the universe came into existence, and we doubt whether it was made by daddy light and mama darkness, or any other myth the primitive imagination might invent.

Imagination grows and matures with monotheistic religion. The immaculate conception is a profoundly scientific concept. The one universe was born, not by evolution, but in a manner absolutely mysterious and unknown. This is the fact of existence. The religious fancy, the poem, and the scientific fact, come together, in the harmonizing imagination, as one.

The harmonizing relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, in which the new obeys, and yet miraculously fulfills, and surpasses, the old, pertains to the strategies of poetry itself, and the inner harmonizing character of poems.

The parts come from the whole, and not the other way around.

God coming to earth requires a virgin birth, since there is no immortal element on earth; there is no immortal dad to impregnate the mortal mother. One needs to hold off the objection, then, to the virgin birth, in order for the God-coming-to-earth story to proceed.

The sacred story of Christ is a great poem, and so feeds poetry, if poetry harmonizes fully, and across the board, and, if we think of the trope of everyone writing the same poem, every time a poet writes a poem, as more than mere linguistic expression, not as a mere fragment of a song or a fragment of a plaint, or a fragment of a protest, or any factual observation the would-be poet might want to indulge in, we can understand a poem as a poem coming into being.  And this exists as a cloud of mystery, not as ‘writing poems for Christ,’ or anything so obvious or silly.

A virgin birth also avoids, for aesthetic reasons, sex, the messy core of messy reality. The raw fact of sex is not condemned or avoided, for sex certainly does have its harmonizing place in the world.

But what to do about sex is not a trivial matter, and has profound practical considerations. In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews must choose whether she wants to be a nun, or not.

Her choice belongs more to religious behavior, than to religious poetry. Religion is in the world, as much as the secular is.

However, we did mention earlier that good harmony keeps its parts, to a certain extent, free from each other. Harmony, which pulls together, should also be freeing. The freedom to choose to be a nun and serve the religion that way, belongs to a profoundly harmonizing challenge.

In another major religion, all women of the religion are forced to be nuns. Here the woman is free of the agonizing moral, social and religious choice which women in the Catholic faith must choose for themselves. Julie Andrews did not know what to do. The West has such a demand for choice and freedom, the whole thing for many people can be overwhelming. But the more freedom, the greater necessity there is for harmony and poetry.

Any religiosity seems horribly quaint in the face of modern, secularist advance.  I speak a little of Christianity (of which I am ignorant) just to appease the title, “A Few Remarks on Poetry, Christianity, and Neo-Romanticism.”

Quickly, before I lose all respect, I would like to examine, for pure pleasure alone, a recent sonnet by Ben Mazer, the contemporary Neo-Romantic poet.

A virgin snow remade the world that year.
Three kings had heard the rumour from afar
and wandered from the East by guiding star.
The sacred place was frosted with the sheer
anticipation of a world to come.
The shepherds and the animals were dumb
with gazing out the windows for the far
approaching kings, the radiant Hamilcar.
The old world would be disappearing fast;
the marvels that they saw they knew would last.
The wind stood patient on the bare swept sill.
Guests stood in silence on the little hill.
The three kings from a distance could be seen.
It was the most spectacular thing that’s ever been.

The Neo-Romantic aspect of this will be quickly seen.  When, against our will, there’s no escape, and we surrender to poetry’s predicament, this is love, romance, and all the helplessness implied, as expressed by again, Shelley, in his Defense of Poetry:

Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within the human being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them. It is as if the lyre could accommodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can accommodate his voice to the sound of the lyre. A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away; so the child seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. In relation to the objects which delight a child these expressions are what poetry is to higher objects.

In order for this formula, which Shelley has evoked, to work: the ‘human lyre’ which “seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause,” we must first really be a lyre, and be literally ‘played’ as a passive instrument; this passivity is the secret to human joy: settling into a dark theater and allowing images to wash over us as we sit there passively—far removed from drudgery and reason and understanding and work of any kind—one is simply a passive lyre. This is why Poe, ‘the Last Romantic,’ championed poetry which aspired to beauty and music and condemned the didactic poem—for didactic poetry slides over into the realm which belongs to labor and pain, and not thoughtless, passive, joy, the surrender necessary to experience poetry in a state of true excitement.

This is not to say poetry (words) benefits from a darkened theater, but the idea of inescapable focus is the same—poetry is different from film, but their joy is based on the same thing: trusting passivity, which frees us from the irritable ‘reaching’ we normally do, in thought or action, and we think naturally here of Keats’ Negative Capability. Sensuality (sound) in poems works like the brightened screen in the cinema—the sensual, unconscious device of passive joy, used to produce the higher version of harmony which attempts to surpass itself.

If this passive, first, step of delight is not allowed to occur, the next step: “which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of sounds or motions…” cannot occur.

To intellectualize, in the common light of day, the horrors of the world, in the spirit of a utilitarian lecturer, will deprive poetry of Shelley’s cinematic mission, and will end up on the other side of Neo-Romanticism; this is why prosaic Modernism is so hostile to Romanticism—as Scarriet has demonstrated in a number of articles over the last ten years.

In Part Two, we will examine Mazer’s poem more closely as we breathe in Neo-Romanticism.

 

 

VEILS, HALOS & SHACKLES: INTERNATIONAL POETRY ON THE OPPRESSION AND EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN

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Charles Adès Fishman and Smita Sahay have compiled an heroic anthology of poetry.  Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women; Kasva Press; Fishman, Sahay; Ed., 2016, 555 pages.

The topic of rape is a horrifying one.  It will not take long for readers of this anthology, readers of manners and decency, to be completely horrified and aghast—the systematic, contemporary, and worldwide brutalizing of women and children is not a dainty subject.

In this remarkable and necessary anthology, brutality against women is often told starkly, in what is essentially prose incident and prose vignettes—poetry sometimes takes a back seat, or poetry comes to the rescue. The topic hinders poetry. Poetry, in this atmosphere must fight to live and breathe.

Either the horrific incidents themselves do not allow poetry to come anywhere near, or the poets, brutalized by the incidents, or stung by the terrible news, are too traumatized to produce poetry.

Weaponized gossip is occasionally the go-to strategy, especially when the incidents occur in more middle class settings. It might be teachers using papers written by their students. One poem begins (and notice the pure prose):

The part-time teacher sometimes has her students read their English IA papers in front of class. She has not read them yet. She asks for volunteers.

A beautiful woman stands in front of the class and reads a paper in which she states that her husband beat her…

Judy Wells “The Part-Time Teacher Sometimes Fears For Her Students’ Lives”

Veils, Halos & Shackles does not get mired in one kind of politics; the perspectives come from everywhere—they are brief, but numerous, and the poets also add prose remarks to their poems.

This book, I am happy to say, has great documentary worth.

The poems tend to be the quick, through-a-keyhole type of horror—not the long arc of fictional, Stephen King, horror. But this is, unfortunately, very real. There are things here you would never want to look at, but which poetry somehow must tell—horror in sad, banal, mundane glimpses.

Poetry almost feels superfluous in recounting these terrible incidents. Poetry, like civilized decency, is ashamed, is tactfully silent, as the suffering unfolds. Unfortunately, or not, Veils, Halos & Shackles only sometimes has poetry. To be true to its subject, this was necessary.

The Socratic injunction against the danger of poetry was not the paranoid ravings of an old man. The best poem about a street fight will feature neither the street nor the fight.  If the poet is weak enough to believe that a poem on a street fight is all about the street fight, then street fighting will win, and poetry will lose.

Is there history, or science (why is there brutality?) or politics in these poems?  Yes, and no.  There is no systematic effort to present science, politics or history.  Yet the nature of the subject—and the poets in this anthology are from all over the world—make it impossible for these poems not to be, in some manner, political and historical—if not scientific.  The anthology has a fullness, in this regard, and is an important record, if only for that.  The editors have done a wonderful job in making this book feel like the world.

But does the subject itself hinder the pleasures of poetry?  To some degree, this might be said to be true.  The more we are appalled by a vast, society-wide problem, the more merely a reaction to it pains us to such a degree that even if the reaction contains understanding, stretching upwards into art, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to have anything to do with that reaction at all.

Poetry walking into the fires of the world cannot survive the fire—if it does, it’s not poetry.  Or, so many instinctively believe.

And if news of the horror needs to be spread, let something more efficient, like prose, do it.  Poetry is the end of existence, not the means; it is the message, not the messaging service.  We should spread the news some other way.

The poet, when reporting contemporary, dire, emergencies, naturally begins to talk in the more urgent, and plain accents, of prose.  It can’t be helped.

Prose can be three things, and only three things.  The truth. Story. Propaganda. Poetry traditionally avoids all three of these, but during an emergency, what is called “poetry” tends to follow the dictates of prose.

Poetry, as it is mostly written today, then, can be three things: The truth. Story. Propaganda. The third is perhaps the most common, since it’s so easy to mix up the first two, and the confusion between the first two ends up, often, being the third, even when the attempt at truth and story is done with the very best intentions.

Propaganda is best when it disguises itself as concern for the oppressed.

The message of concern only advertises the triumph of the wicked, and the end result is just more winning for the wicked, as the innocent are frightened and the good are demoralized. This is the danger. Men are hated. Then men become worse. The illiterate brute fears nothing in front of the ineffectiveness of poetry, which is nothing but unintentional propaganda for what they do. Shelley warned of this, pointing out that poetry has a higher calling, creating love and beauty itself, the true poetry avoiding the problem of the dyer’s hand, stained by reportage of the very horrors poetry must fight by other means.

Many of the poets in this large anthology, about 250 of them—and many are widely published—are aware of this danger—poetry which reports oppressive behavior may give cheer to the oppressor, since poetry which replicates the helpless tears of the oppressed is exactly what the oppressor feeds on. Because of this awareness that weakness breeds weakness,  a few of the poems in Veils, Halos & Shackles urge the women in abusive relationships to murder their oppressors.

The reporter and the poet are not the same. The world needs both. And they should not be confused—when they are, propaganda grows like mold and problems multiply. Rather than be a helpless reporter, the poet offers brutal advice, but this unfortunately fails; it only deepens the sense of helplessness and despair, in which our world, and the attempt at poetry, founders.

Then there is the acute problem of symbol and metaphor—we think, without thinking, that metaphor is the soul of poetry, and even a figure as illustrious as Aristotle thought it so; but when we describe the disgust and terror of this topic in other terms (symbols) the poetry’s gain is the world’s loss; the problem remains, as it is simply given another name, and so despair actually deepens, and poetic wisdom mocks itself.

History, story, journalism, and statistics, are the moral lenses typically offered when widespread brutality occurs—poetry adorns, pleads, humiliates itself, digresses, sketches, symbolizes, paints, condenses, and gasps in such a manner that the very brutality which is the enemy now emerges grinning, in a new guise, not chastened; the oppressor, once banal, is now decorated with the laments of its victims. Poetry cannot harm it. Poetry, by its very nature, does not operate morally, but with faculties more sensual and ironic and complex, such that mere brutality has nothing to do with it at all.

Despite this, the editors have found poems which are stunning examples of poetry, avoiding the trap of harm, venality, stupidity, hunger, and menace breeding more of the same. The editors have still, despite all we have said, produced an important and bountiful anthology. There is hope for humanity.

Here is a poem from Karen Alkalay-Gut, which we meet early in the anthology—arranged alphabetically by author. The variety of the poetry in this anthology recommends it. This poem by Alkalay-Gut is rare for its pure accessibility and brevity.

Guy Breaks Up With A Girl

Guy breaks up with a girl
she tries to kill herself
girl breaks up with a guy
he tries to kill her

either way it’s her fault

This sad tendency is true. The difference between the genders, in that nebulous state of impulsive human desire, where the male oppresses the female, describes the whole subject of the book in an instant. What editor would not want to include this poem?

But what of men who die from love? Or where no one is at fault? What of this?

Or what of the men who would never say if the man “tries to kill” the girl it is “her fault?” What of this?

A poem is not a poem when it leaves itself open to indignant prose responses. Poetry does not belong to sad tendencies. Especially when they are objectively expressed.

Are all women self-effacing, and all men murderous? The poet is not a statistician, who furthers the news of cruel probabilities.

In “Guy Breaks Up With A Girl,” the subject triumphs; the evil, in fact, triumphs, not poetry.

On a certain level, this is the best poem in the book.

On another level, it is not a poem at all.

Here, then, is why this piece deserves a look. It describes the gulf—on two levels—which is the sorrow of us all.

The gulf between men and women—is it real, is it wide, is it imagined? How real? How wide? How imagined? Is it from birth? Is it from society? If it’s from society, does that mean the individual is innocent? How we answer—or do not answer—these questions—is how we write poetry on this topic.

It seems to me that women should never hate all men. If this horror is to be overcome, shouldn’t women fight the horror with the percentage of men who are good, and also hate the wrong?

Linda Pastan, one of the better known poets in the anthology, writes a poem with the same sentiment as “Gut Breaks Up With A Girl:”

On Violence Against Women

when Adam took
that second bite
he said

you’ll get what
you deserve
and spat out the pits

and led Eve
in lockstep
from the garden

and oh
the sweetness
of blame

continues
toxic
down the ages

Unfortunately, Pastan is right. Blame is sweet.

The truth of women wronged is such that perhaps I am too fastidious to speak of gender theory and society and poetry and blame; I should recognize it is the topic which is more important, even as I quote Shelley. But I trust the reader will understand what I am saying.

The following, by Sampurna Chattarji, is my favorite poem in the anthology; it does not shy away from the topic—none of the poems in this anthology do—but it manages to embrace the topic and its profound terror without succumbing to what it works in. It has a deeply informed subjectivity; there is no straining after reporter’s facts, there is no general bitterness, which causes so many poems to run aground. It achieves poignancy in the simplest and truest manner possible.

As A Son, My Daughter

When you grow up,
you will be a healer
loved for your smile
and your sorceress skill.
You will be a composer
of concrete dreams,
songs of towering glass.

You will be the one
to split the gene
and shed light
on every last particle of doubt.

You will know numbers so well
that you will reject them all
save two,
for they will be enough
to keep you engaged endlessly
in running the world,
efficient and remorseless,
a network of binary combinations.

When you grow up,
you will be all that I am not.
Wise, patient, with shiny long hair
and good teeth,
radiant skin to go
with your razor intellect,
as brilliant as you are beautiful.

You will be a wife
and a mother,
your children will be
brilliant and beautiful,
exactly as I see them,
perfect miniatures
of all
that I am not.

I brought you up as a son,
my daughter,
fierce and strong and free.
But now, now
that you are, have become,
all that I am not,
you are too fierce, too strong, too free.
Your hair is too short.
Your absences too long.
You fear nothing.
You frighten me.

The paradox is that poetry can speak of the horror of women brutalized, both systematically and randomly. But poetry escapes blame; it escapes its subject—or, rather, it elevates the subject, which is a paradox, since the wrong, the horror, cannot be elevated.

The miracle is not that that Veils, Halos & Shackles, a poetry anthology, contains no poetry, but that it does.

Wrong begets wrong. And poetry must conquer this begetting, not just the original wrong.

Men, hurt by women, for whatever reason, often rescue themselves by retreating into a “man’s world;” men’s escape from women is expressed in the following “humorous” bumper sticker: “Wife and dog missing. Reward for the dog.”

Diane Lockward saw this bumper sticker on a pickup truck in New Hampshire, and she came up with this fine response, a beautiful, redemptive and poignant poem, “The Missing Wife:”

The wife and dog planned their escape
months in advance, laid up biscuits and bones,
waited for the careless moment when he’d forget
to latch the gate, then hightailed it.

They took shelter in the forest, camouflaged
the scent of their trail with leaves.
Free of him at last,
they peed with relief on a tree.

Time passed. They came and went as they pleased,
chased sticks when they felt like chasing sticks,
dug holes in what they came to regard
as their own backyard. They unlearned
how to roll over and play dead.

In spring the dog wandered off in pursuit
of a rabbit. Collared by a hunter and returned
to the master for $25, he lives
on a tight leash now.

He sleeps on the wife’s side of the bed,
whimpering, pressing his snout
into her pillow, breathing
the scent of her hair.

And the wife? She’s moved deep into the heart
of the forest. She walks
on all fours, fetches for no man, performs
no tricks. She is content. Only sometimes
she gets lonely, remembers how he would nuzzle
her cheek and comfort her when she twitched
and thrashed in her sleep.

What woman—or man—could read this poem without being profoundly moved?

Another major theme in this anthology—of perhaps the most important topic of our time—is that the aftermath of abuse is as terrible—perhaps more so, lasting a lifetime—than the abuse itself.

Bruce Pratt’s irony perhaps makes the point the best; his poem “According To A Spokesman” begins:

Raped, beaten, and thrown down an embankment,
left by her three male attackers for dead,
her injuries are not life-threatening.

The truth is that the “injuries” are always “life-threatening.” Sexual abuse of any kind destroys lives, innocence, and every part of life, once and forever—the defense against the wrong after the wrong has happened, cannot speak, unless to dismiss the wrong—but the wrong can never be dismissed, even if the person, in certain instances, bravely escapes the worst effects. The morality of the issue is such that nuance is not possible, and since poetry excels in nuance, translating a wrong into poetry is the most difficult task there is.

Hina Panya’s remarkable poem, “The Gallery,” gets at the sorrow of the anthology’s topic by having a mother in a gallery opening of her son and stopping in shock before a portrait of her own battered face, a memory (she thought) her son was too young to remember. The poem’s three stanzas use first person, third person, and finally second person, in a very effective manner.

Rochelle Potkar’s “Friends In Rape” attempts a strategy we only occasionally find in Veils, Halos & Shackles—the poem uses the point of view of the abuser—the poem inhabits the “logic” of the male friend’s thoughts as he decides his “brimming love” needs to connect him to his female friend: “Should love not translate?” “Maybe she is just shy” “Doesn’t she smile at each one of your jokes?” “I will be gentle”

Potkar’s strategy flirts with danger—drama illustrating wrong by allowing wrong to speak, concedes too much; it enters that realm where Milton made Satan too attractive. If the entertainment industry gives us villains who seduce, in dramatic fashion, as the audience is forced to listen to villains’ “logic,” or even view villainous audacity and energy, wrong may ultimately win. On the other hand, Shakespeare allowed Iago to speak freely, and who can say this was not a good idea? We are tipped off to how evil works. Potkar is doing us a service; after all, the poem is called “Friends In Rape,” and so I think she is wise to show us what the “friend” is thinking.

Kirtland Snyder’s poem “Intimacy” takes arms against the ‘historical violent male conquest problem’ head on, in one of the most impressive poems in the book, with heroic meter and blasting rhetoric, a sensitive message that swaggers to make its point.  The poetry, as poetry, is strong in a 19th century sort of way, which Snyder obviously intended somewhat ironically—but it’s impressive as poetry, nonetheless.  The message, however (the poem is addressed to a sword-wielding, penis-wielding cartoon of a man) is a bit overblown—neither civilization as we know it, nor the successful male, belongs solely to the sword and penis, if at all, as the poem will have it. Stereotyping, which Snyder chivalrously uses to bash the stupid, bullying male, finally helps no one. It doesn’t reduce violence, it doesn’t increase enlightenment, nor does it produce very good poetry. But Snyder’s poem, considered purely as pyro-technics, is really good in parts—here’s the first stanza:

If you’re lucky in life you will learn to love a woman,
you will learn to keep moving inward on the long journey
to the heart, your most audacious enterprise,
like trying to find the source of the Nile with the Nile
your only map, a living watercourse through a dark
continent whose deepest wellspring you will name Victoria.

The superficial theme eventually kidnaps the poem, but it’s a great poem, nonetheless.

When the majority of the poems are not painting savage incidents which make us turn away in helpless disgust, they occasionally sing out a will to survive, advertising the strength of the woman who survives. Do any of these poems—which address the pain of rape and murder and abuse explicitly—cure the pain, or reduce the suffering, of any of the countless victims? Certainly, writing poems is better than silence. Certainly, it is better to share.

This plague of women suffering must end. All must be vigilant. Men must learn to love. Only through love, and through words informed by love, can we enter paradise.

If you purchase only one book of poetry, please purchase this one.

—the Scarriet editors, Salem MA 10/22/2018

 

 

 

THE LOVE OF ANNABEL LEE: SEX SCANDALS AND THREE ICONIC AMERICAN POEMS

The rose is no longer a rose?

There are three types of love/poetry/sentiment/politics.

Poe, Eliot, or Ginsberg.

All of us participate in these categories. The three types belong to all of us, to some degree.

Warning. This will not be an exercise in saying which is better.

Divide, we shall not.

This is not one of those “Which poet/lover are you?” exercises, in which a sad little person attempts to find out ‘who they are.’ Games such as these merely indulge human vanity. The question here is not “what are you?”

The question is, “what is it?”

What is love?

It is always better to be a scientist than a gossip—especially when gossip gets the upper hand.

Love has a number of elements:

1. Practical, or natural.

2. Moral, or sentimental.

3. Traditional, or cultural.

How is it useful? How is it personal? How it social?

Love is a wave—it has its own existence and reason for being.

The person is the particle in that wave; a person is unique, and is not the wave—but the wave nonetheless impacts the individual.

Whether a woman has children, or not, love—as it relates to children—will impact all women, and all human beings.

Nature, the mother of us all, has a great interest in reproduction.

Intimacy—or love—in its all phenomena, contributes to reproduction.

And further, Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ aspects (fighting, attractiveness, territory) intersect with reproduction, so nature interacts with love in ways brutal and rough, so that love finally sits with characteristics many do not consider loving at all.

So the first consideration—the practical, or natural one—defines love in such a complex manner that love hides, or lurks—and is manipulated by things we don’t recognize as love, at all.

This is why many scholars argue that love is a human invention.

Nature is interested in babies, not love.

But even if we accept that love is a human invention, belonging to society—the third consideration (customary, social) above—it would not make sense to pretend that the natural doesn’t impact society, or that the natural doesn’t matter in love.

Finally, we have the middle distinction: the moral or sentimental, and this is how love matters to the individual—how it makes us feel about ourselves, how it affects our feelings; in other words, matters “of the heart.”

So these are the three basic elements of love: nature, society, and the heart.

Society is what causes people to call certain aspects of love “weird, or perverted.” Society is what makes people “cry at weddings,” and makes people have weddings, and gives priests, or the state, authority to marry people. Society makes rules on abortion. Society has a great deal to do with love.

Society also has a great deal to do with “the heart,” and how individuals feel about love in their hearts.

Many feel “in their heart” exactly what society expects them to feel.

For many, the aspects of love we call, on the one hand, “society” and on the other, “the heart,” are precisely the same.

Further: since society—to a certain degree, successfully—reflects natural, or practical functions of love, there are many individuals who unite all three aspects of love—nature, society, the personal—in their hearts; love is their child, their husband, and their heart.

But love is not always so simple, or successful, or happy.

Love can be as simple as gravity—as relatively simple as the pull, or the dance, of the planets. Love, simple or not, operates in all human beings.

But navigating society, nature, and the heart, proves difficult for most of us, to say the least.

Biology is difficult, and biological reproduction involves sex; reproduction involves picking out whom to have sex with, and whom to reproduce with.

And to make things even more complex—and here we seem to leave the natural, or practical, realm altogether—sex exists for itself, and sex occurs a great deal without having anything to do with biological reproduction.

And society must ‘come to grips with’ this apparently random, and pleasure-or-power-driven, sexual activity—which seems to exist outside of the practical concerns of nature.

But speaking of “power-driven,” nature does care about power—and this is at the heart of Darwin’s view of nature—turf wars, mates competing for mates, and the whole martial aspect of nature belongs to all varieties of non-reproductive, sexual, and sexually-related, activity.  Sexual activity never stands on its own. It always has an object. This is true, whether we are talking about reproduction in marriage, a love sonnet, casual dating, rape, or purely-for-pleasure, kinky, sex.

Try as we might then, we cannot think of sex as somehow apart from nature, or apart society. Sex always belongs to the nature-society-heart formula, as does love, from which sex springs. Love does belong to one thing, then, as itself, within the three main considerations: nature at the top, influencing society, which then influences the individual.

Love should be seen, and can be seen, as one, with all its parts connected and related.

Love obeys nature, but how society views love can have a radical impact—think of Islam, versus the Modern West. The woman covered from head to toe versus the woman in a bikini. Or the Old South in the United States, when cousins married. Or ancient and not-so-ancient cultures with harems, or “child brides.” Homosexuality and the Non-Binary is accepted, or not, differently, by different cultures in different places and times. Society, attempting to reflect nature, manufactures how individuals feel about love—we are all caught in society’s web. Family, a microcosm of society and nature, also influences how individuals feel about love. Objectivity is nearly impossible; some look towards nature to find the objective truth of love; others cast away objectivity altogether, and listen to the vibrations of their hearts (which could mean testosterone hormone therapy).

Every radical and different view of love can be traced back in one direction to nature, and in the other direction to the heart. Love always connects to the three considerations: nature, heart, society.

How should men and women relate to one another? Nature created man, woman, and reproduction. But society created so much more, and society makes the rules. And in our hearts, we may agree, or not, with a part, or all of, society’s rules. But no matter how deeply love winds through our hearts, we cannot escape love defined by society, and, in turn, defined by nature. Conversely, no matter how strong nature and society are, the heart wants what it wants.

Poe’s “Annabel Lee” may be the most iconic love poem in existence. “Annabel Lee” represents a certain kind of love.

We all know the beautiful poem—“I was a child and she was a child.”

The Annabel Lee love is innocent, not worldly. It escapes nature—that is, reproduction—since a “child” is too young to reproduce. Society is present—we get the beloved’s full name, implying parenthood, genealogy and the record-keeping aspect of society. But children are not yet full members of society. So in that sense the beloved belongs to society, but not quite. Also, a child qua child belongs to nature—what is more natural than a child? But since the child has a name given to her by society, and she is not an adult, she doesn’t belong fully to nature, either.

The poet says “you may know” this maiden; and this “may know” is significant.  This situates Annabel Lee in the center of ordinary society—she is not famous (you “may” know her) but she’s not a recluse, or an unknown living in nature, either—precisely because you “may know her.” Or, Poe could be slyly implying that you, the reader, may be aware, or not, of the exquisite sort of love he is describing. Either way, it works. The poet needs society to speak, and be understood by others.

The “Annabel Lee love” belongs to society, and hopefully, to you.

“And this maiden she lived with no other thought/Than to love and be loved by me.”

Here’s the third element—the personal, the heart: “no other thought.”

Poe, in “Annabel Lee,” quickly sketches the trinity: nature, society, and the heart.

The poet takes care to establish the three as one: she is a child (nature), she has a name (society), and she “lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me” (heart).

We do get introduced to her as a “maiden”—-before we get introduced to her as a “child.”

“Maiden” is more societal in terms of love’s rules, than “child,” and only when called a “child” in the second stanza (she is called a “maiden” in the first) do we get the transcendent passion blurted out: “but we loved with a love that was more than love.”

The impossible attempt to transcend, to escape, love—which is determined by nature and society—is seen in these two famous phrases from the poem: “no other thought than to love” and “loved with a love that was more than love.”

This attempt to transcend love, to be “more than love” leads to the elaborate trope which continues to the end of the poem: angels “coveted her and me.” Annabel Lee dies, envied and killed by the entire universe—“angels,” “kinsmen,” those “older and wiser”, “demons”, nature (a “wind” which “chills” her).

This transcendent love—what might be called the ultimate romantic love—all encompassing, pure, innocent, monogamous—fully existing in nature, society, and the heart—is tenderly hymned in a divinely beautiful, poem of ideal, musical expression. It belongs very much to the 19th Century, to High Romanticism.

Poe presents sweet, ideal, transcendent love, the kind which belongs to our dreams.

But the Annabel Lee love will inevitably lead to envy, disapproval, and death.

The tone of “Annabel Lee” is Shelley’s “sweetest songs tell of saddest thought.”

Melancholy, the sadness of idealism inevitably spoiled, hovers over “Annabel Lee.”

Yet, finally, the ideal—though it must die—is expressed, and finds its way into our hearts, and lives.

The tone of melancholy isn’t accidental, but primary—precisely because the ideal is placed, by the poet, in the world which destroys, and casts it out. The ideal doesn’t exist pristinely and abstractly on a blackboard—it suffers inevitable death and decay—and produces its natural result, melancholia—by facing its ridicule and downfall, in the actual world of brutal nature and envious kinsmen. Even the “winged seraphs of heaven” are jealous—the whole thing is even worse than we think. The established ideal envies new ideals which strive to be more ideal.

The ideal is always tragic.

Idealism is the most profound manner in which the horror of the real is known. The ideal can hide—but also reveals—the real.

There is no victory, no escape, in any attempt to be ideal, for ultimately it is vanity—songs and poems which are ideal are finally abstract and do live apart from reality (the final, true reason for the melancholy) and so it both is, and isn’t true, that the ideal “lives” in the poem and in our hearts, and does not die. The ideal always hits the wall, always disappoints, always sinks into despair and sorrow. But because it is ideal, we continue to seek it, even if it gives us sorrow—and the beauty which accompanies the sorrow becomes the one, real thing we do experience, and is valid, and gives lasting pleasure.

T.S. Eliot’s early 20th century poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Allen Ginsberg’s mid-20th century poem, “A Supermarket in California,” follow directly in the footsteps of “Annabel Lee,” Poe’s mid-19th century masterpiece.

Eliot and Ginsberg’s poems, like “Annabel Lee,” despite being “modern,” are both melancholic, idealistic, iconic masterpieces on love.

All three poems feature characters with full names:

Annabel Lee. (Imaginary woman)

J. Alfred Prufrock (Imaginary man)

Walt Whitman. (Real man)

All three of these lyric poems end with the trope of water: forgetful, drowning, memorable water.

Romantic love is satisfied to provide a lovely sounding first name—but in these three poems love is examined in a larger context.

The Romanticism of Poe in “Annabel Lee” is a romanticism already a failure, albeit in a beautiful way.

But Eliot, a few generations, later, follows Poe naturally, with the hyper-sensitive male suffering a Hamlet-like indecision in the presence of…not Annabel Lee, but a number of women. Eliot originally called his poem “Prufrock Among The Women” and this seems to be part of the problem—there are too many choices, perhaps?

“And I have known the arms already, known them all…And how should I begin?”

Alfred Prufrock doesn’t form a union with Annabel Lee. There is no “Annabel Lee love” in “Prufrock.” In contrast to “Annabel Lee love,” Prufrock’s love is the modern situation of secret desires, without any love.

Allen Ginsberg, 100 years on from Poe, and 50 years on from Eliot, in his poem “A Supermarket in California,” describes heaven in the following manner:

“Tasting” item after item in a supermarket while “never passing the cashier.”

Like Prufrock, the narrator in “A Supermarket in California” is unlucky in love, but with Ginsberg, the issue of class is implied—perhaps if he wasn’t a poor slob, he could have Annabel Lee?

The Walt Whitman in Ginsberg’s poem is a less refined Prufrock, with a hint of the wandering, the predatory, the scandalous: “lonely old grubber…eyeing the grocery boys.”

Ginsberg presents us a picture of breeding nature as it relates to love: “Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!”

Despite this picture, the melancholy and the lonely prevail in Ginsberg’s poem: Poe’s melancholy amid the plenty. Prufrock’s sadness amid the salad.

“Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a hour.” Nature (“babies in the tomatoes”) is not enough; nor is society (“doors close in a hour”).  The restless, nocturnal heart needs some place to go.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets begins with “From fairest creatures we desire increase”—-in this dense phrase Shakespeare’s genius expresses love in the framework of nature/society/heart even quicker than Poe does in “Annabel Lee,” which, in its melodic melancholy, establishes love as hopeless ideal. In Shakesspeare’s Sonnet #1, “increase” is 1. nature, the “desire” for that “increase” is 2. society, and to “desire” the “fairest” constitutes matters of the 3. heart.

Is the healthy when all three are one?

The great rash of sexual harassment cases making headlines currently, are matters of nature (sex drive, power and dominance) and the heart (secret, squeamish lusts, and desires).

But while they reflect nature and the heart, they are making headlines precisely because they don’t fit societal norms.

But one might say they are making headlines because they do fit society’s “norms,” and this is precisely the problem—societal reform, which protects and respects women, is necessary.

Society is the focus in these current scandals—and how we as citizens/individuals feel about these sexual harassment cases.

Our reactions are filtered through our politics (as accusations hit those on the left or right), politics which significantly define many individuals.

The politics of the “cashier.”

The current political landscape, some argue, is why all these scandals have suddenly become public—they are driven by 1. frustration with the success of Trump, and 2. the hubris of Bill Clinton.

As individuals, we chiefly feel “glad it isn’t me,” and “let the courts and the individuals affected decide how to proceed,” and “hope this scandal brings down a politician I don’t like.”

But somewhere in our hearts we also perhaps bitterly realize that nature and the heart never change—the plethora of scandals will do exactly nothing to change the human heart and the laws of the jungle.

Society—as it rather ineptly attempts to mitigate the horrors, encourage the pleasures, and administer justice—is too large and corrupt to improve anything.

Many don’t finally trust that these scandals will make things better—even if secret, taxpayer-funded payoffs by congressmen are exposed.

A scandal always means an individual has been caught. A heart has been found out. The secret heart which is wrong has been seen—but too late, we feel, for prevention, for good to be done, even as we glory in selected shame and punishment.

What is normative in society, as it pertains to love, happens slowly over time—it doesn’t happen as a result of scandal. Scandal is not the cause, but merely the effect of what society at any given moment happens to see.

The case of Poe—was this southerner Roy Moore’s ideal?—in which a chaste and studious twenty five year old man marries a thirteen year old virgin—and both remaining happy in a faithful and artistic marriage, as long as they both live—is considered foul today.

The 21st century American citizen, who condemns Poe—lives by a code in which one has numerous partners, induces numerous heartbreaks and quarrels, divorces numerous times, and aborts offspring along the way—and this, in society’s eyes, is considered perfectly acceptable.

Scandal gets at a truth—but not the whole truth. And endless curiosity may get at a greater truth, or not.  Meanwhile, public opinion frets, the law acts, and the vulnerable continue to live in fear, and perhaps take risks to further themselves.

The truth of love lies in the endlessly complex interaction between nature, society, and the heart—as it plays out in different cultures, and local politics, over many thousands of years—the single thread of love twisting and turning, like a snake—partly in pleasure, partly in shame, and partly in agony.

 

 

LOVE IS AN ACT: IN PRAISE OF ROMANTICISM

Related image

It is time to be honest about love.

We are going to argue that love—truly romantic love—rejected as cheap and backwards these days, will save the world.

First, we admit that love is rare, and it dies rather quickly. Everyone experiences this. We like something if it benefits us, and all sorts of human relationships are based on practical arrangements. Love, and here we will skip a definition, since it refers to what most of us have experienced at some point: it is mad, complete, mystical, and full of desire. It is not friendship. It can strike us before puberty, but after puberty, the charisma involved largely partakes of sexuality.

It is a truism to say love requires focus. Love must be intense, have intensity—if it is what we know as love, it must be intense—and this brings us to love’s desire for beauty. It wouldn’t make sense for love to involve many things, for this would be to dilute and diminish by spreading too thin, all that love is, and we agree love must have intensity.

Love must have a physical dimension, and to have the force and importance love requires, love should be rare, but not so rare as to be beyond human possibility, and a certain social comprehension. Individual human beauty fits this criterion—human beauty is rare, invokes intensity and focus, and though rare, is accessible.

In the same manner that durable, attractive, and rare metals such as silver and gold will always signify value in terms of wealth in society, human beauty, whether we like it or not, is the coin of love.

We begin with individual human beauty.

But now we have two more elements.

These elements are based on the idea that love is an act.

Do we mean in the sense that “acting” is fake? “To be able to act” is simply what a successful person is able to do. One can say that beauty is “fake,” in the context of love; but this is to assume that the attractive, which is desired, is insincere, but how so? Acting, like beauty, might be construed as fake in “matters of the heart,” but this view, in the name of a fake “depth,” is the superficial one. If something is truly desired, and if any action, including “acting,” belongs to the category of achieving what is desired, how can it then be deemed superficial? We are forced to use acting, action, and act, and all these three words imply—since we are not talking of friendship or the spiritual, but the concentrated madness of love.

When we say “acting,” we do not include lying, or being dishonest in any way which hurts the beloved. We mean “acting” with the goal of loving one person. The “act” is for love, not for “playing around.”

After beauty, there are two layers of “acting” involved:

One: micro-acting, which refers to the natural charm of the person, an unconscious extension of physical attractiveness, and

Two: macro-acting, which involves the actual “behavior of love;” making vows and uttering words of promise, committment, passion, excitement, praise and, naturally, love.

Micro-acting is crucial. One can be physically attractive, but have very little actual charm. Physical beauty is necessary, but even necessary is micro-acting, the way a person smiles, their personality, how they “act.” We have all seen the attractive face which loses all its beauty the moment we experience that dull something in the person behind it. Beauty exists cleverly and minutely.

Macro-acting takes work.

Micro-acting is just the way the person is.

All three, personal beauty, micro-acting, and macro-acting, mutually enhance each other, and all three are present in love.

Acting, even as we are describing it here, in a heightened, non-pejorative way, is typically seen as wretched, superficial, dishonest, and unseemly.

But what we are saying here is that acting is at the heart of romantic love, and romantic love could not exist without it.

Romantic love is not necessary to marriage and children; there are many societies where marriage is arranged, or where women are second class citizens, or worse, and therefore breeding does not require love at all.

Here we notice two things. Romantic love, which may lead to marriage and children, is not necessary to these two things.

But when it is, it requires women to be free and equal to men.

If this is true, is the western tradition of romantic love directly involved in equality for women?

And if romantic love does require “acting,” is this why romantic love is easy for other societies to disparage, and why romantic love is increasingly viewed as insincere, useless, and crazy—especially with increasing contact between the west—and societies (Islam, for instance) which put more of a premium on breeding, and submissive women, than romantic love?

Recall that the major trope of romantic love as “madness” comes from Plato, who opined human breeding farms as a national ideal. (Plato redeems himself in other places, defending love, and the equality of women, but his pragmatic side had moments in his famous society blueprint, “The Republic.”)

What if romantic love is the true path to free and equal women, to a free and equal society, and love itself?

What if romantic love faces grave danger before the more practical forces of not only societies which enslave women, but groups who view romantic love as a backwards and superficial act?

Much has been made recently of the unlikely alliance between feminists and Muslims—how could these two groups possibly be allied?

Both oppose romantic love.

Islam prioritizes modesty—marriage in which the woman is subordinate.

Romantic love does not fit into this scheme.

Feminists (and many sexual progressives) dislike romantic love—since it prioritizes attractive and flirtatious females. Indicted here is the great western tradition of dead white male literature of the roaming, independent, pining male poets, and their beautiful female muses.

But the great tradition of romantic love does not feature enslaved, uneducated, subordinate women. Nor does it feature empty-headed, sexual bimbos, either.  And women can be beautiful in millions of different ways.

The Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, loved educated women.

Equals. Women who could appreciate their poetry. Women (think of Mary Shelley) who were writers, as well.

Poe’s “Ligeia” is an entrancing, mentally and spiritually powerful, woman. Poe rejected as a literary ideal the merely sexual or physically attractive female. Flirtatious women meant nothing to Poe. But the woman poet was a source of great admiration for the American.

The great tradition of Romantic love features strong women. Otherwise it is perverted Romanticism.

Two wars. One should never fight two wars.

Women do not put on uniforms and go to war against other women. Men do that.

In nations where men fight other men and keep their women veiled and subordinate, men fight two wars, one against men, and another against their women.

These societies which fight two wars tend to lose out to the countries in the west—whose women are free and educated—the result of the western romantic literary tradition.

Here’s to Romanticism—often portrayed as reactionary, but it is quite the opposite.

Our readers have noticed we have championed the poet, Ben Mazer, who is just now bringing out his Selected Poems to a great deal of acclaim.

Ben Mazer and Scarriet are leading the revival of Romantic poetry.

We must admit that romance is an act—in the superficial meaning of that word.

We must admit to love’s superficiality.

Even as we defend it.

It is through poetry that micro-acting and macro-acting become one; and the poet achieves the charm of the lover—which all desire to possess.

Romantic love may just be the answer to world peace.

If the world heeds this essay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHO IS THE GREATEST LIVING POET?

Sushmita Gupta, painter, mother, teacher, wife, was born in Kolkata. She grew up in Bhilai, a Russian-Indian steel township in central eastern India, with perpendicular roads, and large trees which flowered during the summer and became fragrant at night. She presently lives in Oman.

She is proof that the sensitive female soul is the essence of poetry.  She reconciles the elements of the universe.

Her online site, Sushness supplies a much better view of her tasteful and prolific output.

Here on Scarriet we offer only a few poor, inflamed arguments in favor of her (the best arguments contain fire) and two of her poems.

She reminds us of Shelley, who embraced primary elements of psychology and nature.

Nor is she afraid to offer wisdom, in the ancient sense.

American poets—after Poe—a sophisticated lot, tend to be suspicious of wisdom—their excellence lies in quirky and difficult points of view.  The school of Bishop/Lowell, for instance.  Auden, perhaps, was the last poet in English who made a real attempt to sound wise.

The Bold And The Peaceful

I rushed.
It was bright.
It was crazy.
A tornado full of life.

The unpredictability!
The speed!
The danger!
My bold streak drew me to it.

I rushed across the field,
To be carried and caressed
By a tornado.

Almost there,
I stopped.
The peace within me,
Made a terrible mismatch.

The bold and the peaceful.
That is me.

In this minor poem by Sushmita Gupta, which resembles the minor poems of Shelley, we are struck by emotion, clarity, and psychological truth—the poem carries us away with its energy and immediacy—exactly like a tornado; the poem delivers its expressiveness without fuss, and because there’s no fuss, the reader is engaged; there is no hesitation, pretense, or straining after the right little details. The poem has the rigor of religion, the flow of the poem has an epic force and size, which permits the whole of the emotional expression to make itself felt. A child could understand the poem, and this is part of its appeal, and yet its subtlety is profound. The poem’s movement is psychologically astute. The key line in the poem is “I rushed across the field” and here is all the remarkable imagery we need. The very balance of the poem threatens to break it apart.  The duality is not a cancelling one, but in a brilliantly ironic way, the very source of the poem’s fury.

Sushmita Gupta is the greatest living poet.

Fame, as we all know, is based on hearsay—the T shirt is an extremely popular piece of clothing, but its popularity is not up for discussion, nor can it be mitigated by academic debate.

None can say what a great T-shirt is—it is the simple design of the T-shirt—invisible, ubiquitous—which is the “great” thing; the great poem is not akin to a great T-shirt, obviously; but the great poem achieves an excellence similar to the invisible, ubiquitous reality of the T-shirt as it exists in the practical world of clothes.

We should make it clear that Sushmita Gupta is the last person in the world who would make the claim that she is a “great” poet, much less the “greatest living poet.” She is too busy enjoying life, which includes writing poems, to ever worry about such a thing; she writes for friends, which is the practice of most poets—famous, or not.

She is humble and gracious—Scarriet makes this “great” claim on her behalf, without her knowledge, for pedagogical purposes only. We call her “great” only to advertise our own critical taste in poems written in English, which we have long developed and maintained. It ultimately doesn’t matter what a poet thinks, or whether their life circumstances justify the content of their poetry; we care, and only hope our readers care, for the poetry.

Judging poetry today is hindered by two things.

First: poetry criticism is hobbled by the cant which supposes that poetry has no relation to a made object with a clear design. “Poetry is not a T-shirt!”  Yes, true.

But indeed the poem—which belongs to life, and not to a rarefied, non-place, swirling about in a haze of intellectualized assumptions—is, like a T-shirt, a made object with a clear design.

Intellectual pedantry—which seeks to dazzle, without making sense—disagrees with the common sense premise that poetry is a “made object with a clear design,” and this pedantry wildly expands to assert that the more a poem is unlike a “made object with a clear design,” the better it is.

And so authority becomes not just partially perverted, but completely perverted. This is common in rhetorical pursuits, such as poetry, literary criticism, or politics—where rhetoric itself separates people, even though all people, in almost all cases, want the same things.

This is the first thing: on dubious authority, a poem is not recognized as a poem.

Second: although an appreciation of poetry will always exist among people who wear T-shirts, the process by which poetry is “officially” recognized is in the hands of the well-placed, academic, few—who devotedly pursue the error we just outlined.  This is especially the case, since the teaching of poetry was replaced, in mid-20th century America, by the college writing program apparatus, in which ambitious individuals transformed themselves from poets seeking fame into poetry teachers seeking fame, ensuring critical, philosophical confusion on one hand, and the precise kinds of unfortunate divisiveness and calculating hierarchy, often seen in politics, on the other—with the emptiness we would expect.

“Who is Sushmita Gupta?”

To the ambitious and well-positioned who ask this indignantly, we have no response.

Sushmita Gupta has neither bought into the expertise-cant of razzle-dazzle, formless, unclear poetry, nor has she ambitiously clambered her way into the maze of the creative writing industry.

Now obviously, this article, featuring two Sushmita Gupta poems, will not reveal to our readers what a real poem is, or any such nonsense—our argument above is not to be taken as a definition of poetry, but only a glimpse into what informs our own particular taste, out of which arises our judgment—that Sushmita Gupta’s poetry is deserving of lofty notice and serious recognition.

We spoke earlier of the importance of a poem’s formal design. Every poet should properly, and naturally, have a specific design on the reader—these two “designs” are nothing without the other—the poem’s visible, formal properties on one hand, and the poet’s invisible, emotional, and social intention, on the other. The more these match, the more successful the poem.

When we first had the pleasure of reading “His Words,” by Sushmita Gupta, we felt an emotional kick, and we were pleased at how seemingly without effort the emotional kick was administered. Only after reading the poem, again, with a critical eye, did we recognize its formal perfection.

The poem contains six stanzas. In stanzas two through five, the first part of each stanza is concerned with what “he” does to “her.”

The final line of these four stanzas reveals, progressively, the result of what he does to her.

We see effect on her, and also the effect of her—as when an image, such as “petal” is used.

The result of the last line of each of these stanzas is also her words, the poet’s, on “his words”—his words and her words contend within the poem, in an unspoken manner.

Sushmita Gupta’s poem, “His Words,” is more than a poem vindicating itself. The poem transcends its own poetic rhetoric in its final line—even as it remains securely within the arc of the poem.

It could be argued that the poet, in her final accusation—as a poet—is accusing herself, though this is not explicit.  There is meaning within meaning—within the poem, and one final possible meaning—outside the poem itself.

Nothing is left out, nothing more is needed—and every part of the poem belongs to every other part, as well as to the whole.  The measured perfection and ease, is breathtaking—even as the subject itself is a dramatic whirlwind.

~~~~~~~~~~

His Words

He chose
Each word,
With utmost care.
He strung
The sentences
Into lyrical poetry.

His writings
Touched her,
Like she was
The most beautiful.

His writings
Caressed her,
Like she was
A fragrant being.

His writings
Stroked her,
Like she was
A tender petal.

And she felt,
Being carried,
Over the threshold,
And pledged herself to him.

Only,
He did not know
She lived.

 

 

 

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