SCARRIET’S HOT POETRY ONE HUNDRED 2019—“BEST LINES”

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I don’t know any format—except this one, Scarriet, now in its tenth year—which attempts to bring together every kind of poet in one place.

There are four kinds of poets who never touch each other and exist in separate universes: the formalist poet, the colloquial poet, the professional, and the amateur. Poets of radically different styles insult one another, stylistically, that is—the novelist is more like the poet than different kinds of poets from each other. I can no longer go to a library or a bookstore and seek “poetry” without entering a shooting zone of competing forms and sentiments.

The colloquial now dominates the professional; the beautiful and well-made book cover of the contemporary poet hides more f-bombs than rhymes.

The professional, with their prizes and book deals, wants nothing to do with the amateur—who posts their accessible love poems online. The gulf is such, that a person “who hates poetry” will sooner read, and even like, the amateur’s efforts, before the well-connected professional will deign to glimpse what, in their opinion, is trash (or perhaps to their jealous consternation, good) given away too easily.

One delightful thing I’ve noticed: how a few selected words from a poet’s work can explain the entirety of the kind of poet they are; as much as this is true, it validates this list, and makes it more than just an exercise in which a formalist amateur like myself attempts to ram together, in a feverish fit of schadenfreude, things which do not belong.

These poets do belong together—or, rather, they do not.

Yet here they are.

Thomas Graves, Salem, MA 12/4/2019

*******

1) Laura Foley “to look back and see, on the hilltop, our life, lit from inside.”

2) Luke Kennard “I take the murderer for coffee.”

3) Ilya Kaminsky “What is a child? A quiet between two bombardments.”

4) Kathleen Jamie “Walking in a waking dream I watched nineteen deer pour from ridge to glen-floor”

5) Linda Ashok  “the moon licked up the landscape with her fervent tongue”

6) Fiona Benson “How light I was. How doubtfully safe.”

7) Ben Mazer “Some must be publishers, and some must be spot on, in a horse drawn carriage, taking in the dawn”

8) Sushmita Gupta “She gave a last look at her solitary car, in her garage, with seats folded down so paintings could lay, the slope that rolled down the hill that ended in a roundabout, with palms and coloured grass that looked like hay.”

9) Stephen Cole “You still disturb the meadow with your words.”

10) Julia Alvarez “I’ve broken up with my true love man after man”

11) Brian Rihlmann “nail guns pop pop pop I heard stilettos on concrete the lady of old Reno wandering”

12) Patricia Smith “Who shot you, baby?”

13) Joie Bose “I see you in all the faces I see, crisscrossing the pavements aimlessly.”

14) Indah Widiastuti “Who is the poem I wrote? He speaks a language I never use; read by those I never know.”

15) Kevin Young “We curl down the slide one at a time, blue light at the end.”

16) Joy Harjo “I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn to find the sun.”

17) Jill McDonough “I am not interested in makeup. I am interested in jail.”

18) Chelsey Minnis “People in their nightgowns, smoking cigarettes, they give great speeches.”

19) Nabina Das “It’s in love that we wait & let all other loves wither & waste.”

20) Eliana Vanessa “impediment of roses: and this is not the sort of thing you can control, no, how our bodies trembled, post-love, nor the way I will keep falling, to explain it, just so.”

21) Adeeba Shahid Talukder “Splinter the sun, wake all its ashes.”

22) Dorianne Laux “Broken the days into nights, the night sky into stars”

23) Sharon Olds “I caught bees, by the wings, and held them”

24) Alicia Ostriker “there are no pauses in this game”

25) Tishani Doshi “to fall into that same oblivion with nothing. As if it were nothing.”

26) Vidyan Ravinthiran “this isn’t the right kind of snow.”

27) Glyn Maxwell “he goes his way delighted”

28) Anne Carson “During the sermon, I crossed my legs.”

29) Peter Gizzi “I guess these trailers lined up in the lot off the highway will do.”

30) Li-Young Lee “From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches”

31) Blake Campbell “And he entered, great spelunker, the resonant and ancient darkness”

32) Diana Khoi Nguyen “You cannot keep your brother alive.”

33) Marilyn Chin “I watched the world shrink into a penlight: how frail the court poet’s neck, how small this poetry world.”

34) Fanny Howe “We are always halfway there when we are here”

35) Babitha Marina Justin “It is rolling from roof to roof”

36) Meera Nair “You set us up against each other. Men against Women. We are all bovine.”

37) Anthony Anaxagorou “is that your hand still on my elbow?”

38) Tracy K. Smith “We wish to act. We may yet.”

39) Wendy Videlock “He watches ball. She throws a fit. She cannot stand to see him sit.”

40) Daipayan Nair “Autumn leaf! Nothing to keep—apart from beauty.”

41) Mary Angela Douglas “and let the tiny silver trumpets blow”

42) Carolyn Forché “What you have heard is true.”

43) Martin Espada “No one could hear him.”

44) Tina Chang “love is crowding the street and needs only air and it lives, over there, in the distance burning.”

45) Danez Smith “I have left earth.”

46) Ocean Vuong “this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning into a tongue.”

47) Eleanor Wilner “the blood that is pouring like a tide, on other shores.”

48) Marge Piercy “a woman is not made of flesh: she is manufactured like a sports sedan”

49) Yusef Komunyakka “My muse is holding me prisoner.”

50) Naomi Shihab Nye “Each day I miss Japanese precision.”

51) Terrance Hayes “I love how your blackness leaves them in the dark.”

52) Carl Dennis “Lending a hand, I’d tell him, is always dignified, while being a hero is incidental.”

53) Jeet Thayil “Some are sweet and old, others are foul-mouthed and bold. Mine is dead and cold.”

54) Victoria Chang “Her last words were in English. She asked for a Sprite.”

55) Kushal Poddar “ferns, orchids, hyacinths sprawl like insomniac veins.”

56) Karen Solie “We itch and prosper heavenward on bands of grit and smoke”

57) Richard Blanco “Stare until the trembling leaves are tongues”

58) Paul Muldoon “putting its shoulder to the wheel it means to reinvent.”

59) Safiya Sinclair “Isn’t this love? To walk hand in hand toward the humid dark”

60) Frank Bidart “Fucked up, you know you’d never fall for someone not fucked up.”

61) Nick Flynn “My therapist points out that fifteen minutes of movie violence releases as many opiates into the body as if being prepped for major surgery.”

62) Jennifer Moss “all beauty turned hostile”

63) Fatimah Asghar “your lantern long ahead & I follow I follow”

64) Hannah Sullivan “All summer the Park smelled of cloves and it was dying.”

65) Jamal May “The counting that says, I am this far. I am this close.”

66) William Logan “Don’t be any form’s bitch.”

67) Juan Felipe Herrera “No food. No food no food no food no food!”

68) Hera Lindsay Bird “it was probably love that great dark blue sex hope that keeps coming true”

69) Ae Hee Lee “She asks your husband to step in.”

70) Jay Bernard “I file it under fire, corpus, body, house.”

71) Sophie Collins “pails full of oil all dark and density and difficult for a girl to carry”

72) Hollie McNish “I let myself go cycling slow as I unbutton my clothes jacket unzipped helmet unclipped”

73) Zaffar Kunial “I didn’t know the word for what I was.”

74) Paul Farley “he fell up the dark stairwell to bed and projected right through to Australia”

75) Deryn Rees-Jones “The movie I’m in is black and white.”

76) Roger Robinson “he picks you up in the hand not holding the book”

77) Lloyd Schwartz “or if not the girl, then Vermeer’s painting of her”

78) Nalini Priyadarshni “but I love tea and so do you.”

79) Raquel  Balboni “Come off as harsh even if I’m friendly”

80) Robert Pinsky “When I had no temple I made my voice my temple.”

81) Emily Lawson “I step out to meet the wanderer: its black-veined hindwings”

82) Bruce Weigl “Why do we murder ourselves and then try to live forever.”

83) Steph Burt “I want to go home, paint my nails until they iridesce, clamp on my headphones, and pray to Taylor Swift.”

84) Merryn Juliette “There is no ceremony to her—she was simply there when yesterday she was not”

85) Thomas Sayers Ellis “It’s entrancement, how they govern you. The entertainment is side effect.”

86) Amy Gerstler “Here on earth, another rough era is birthed.”

87) Rupi Kaur “i change what i am wearing five times before i see you”

88) Forrest Gander “What closes and then luminous? What opens and then dark?”

89) Justin Phillip Reed “when you fuck me and i don’t like it, is that violence.”

90) Franny Choi  “i pick up the accent of whoever i’m speaking to. nobody wants to fuck a sponge.”

91) Emily Skaja “when night came, an egg-moon slid over the steeple.”

92) Mary Ruefle “Night falls and the empty intimacy of the whole world fills my heart to frothing.”

93) Aaron Smith “If a man is given dick, he’s never full.”

94) Donald Revell “Time might be anything, even the least portion of shadow in the blaze, that helpless Hare of darkness in the hawk’s world.”

95) Dan Sociu “people have infinite capacity for transformation, into anything, and I know that I myself can transform”

96) Ben Zarov “There are many, many wrong ways.”

97)  Adil Jussawalla “Twenty years on, its feet broken, will its hands fly to its face when a light’s switched on?”

98) Steven Cramer “no matter how we plead they won’t come down.”

99) George Bilgere “My father would take off his jacket and tie after work and fire up the back yard grill. Scotch and a lawn chair was his idea of nature. Even Thoreau only lasted a couple of years.”

100) Ravi Shankar “I watch, repose, alone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. John Ashbery –Perennial BAP poet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

34. Donald Hall –new book, Essays After Eighty

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

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

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

38. Vijay Seshadri –2014 Pulitzer in Poetry

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

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

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

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

43. Billy Collins –Becoming critically irrelevant?

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

45. Cornelius Eady  –co-founded Cave Canem.

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

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

48. Tony Hoagland  –still smarting from that tennis poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

58. George Bilgere  –patiently enduring the Collins comparisons

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

60. Amy King –Northern Lesbo Elitist

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

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

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

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

65. Paul Lewis –BC prof leading Poe Revisionism movement

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

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

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

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

70. Harold Bloom  –He has much to say.

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

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

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

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

75. Peter Gizzi –His Selected Poems published in 2014

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

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

78. Michael Robbins –writes for the Chicago Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

87. Hannah Gamble –In December Poetry

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

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

90. Robyn SchiffRevolver is not only a Beatles album.

91. Ted GreenwaldA Mammal of Style with Kit Robinson

92. Rachel ZuckerThe Pedestrians is out

93. Dorothea LaskyRome is her fourth book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANOTHER SCARY SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!

1. Natasha Trethewey   Beautiful! Black! Poet Laureate!
2. Billy Collins  Still sells…
3. David Lehman  Best American Poetry Series chugs along…
4. Stephen Burt  Harvard Cross-dresser takes Vendler’s mantle?
5. William Logan  Most entertaining poetry critic
6. Christian Wiman  He’s the “Poetry” man, he makes me feel alright…
7. Sharon Olds  Sock-in-the-gut, sexy frankness…
8. Tracy K. Smith Young Pulitzer winner
9. David Orr  The New York Times Poetry Critic…
10. Harold Bloom  Not sure on Naomi Wolfe; we know he abused Poe….
11. Matthew Dickman  OMG!  Is he really no. 11?
12. Anne Carson  Professor of Classics born in Toronto…
13. Dana Gioia  Famous essay still resonates & not a bad formalist poet…
14. Jorie Graham Judge not…
15. Rita Dove The Penguin Anthology really wasn’t that good…
16. Helen Vendler Almost 80!
17. John Ashbery Has he ever written a poem for no. 16?  Where’s the love?
18. David Ferry This translator is almost 90!
19. Kevin Young We hear he’s a leading poet of his generation…
20. Robert Pinsky The smartest man in the universe…
21. Cole Swenson  The Hybrid Queen, newly installed at Brown…
22. Marjorie Perloff  “Poetry on the Brink” praises cut-and-paste…
23. John Barr Financial leader of Poetry Foundation and poet worth reading?
24. Seamus Heaney  The inscrutable Irish mountain…
25. Geoffrey Hill  A mountain who is really a hill?
26. Robert Hass  West-coast cheerleader.
27. Stephen Dunn  Athlete, philosopher, poet
28. Laura Kassichke  Championed by Burt.
29. Mary Oliver  The John Clare of today…
30. Kay Ryan  Come on, she’s actually good…
31. Don Share  Riding “Poetry” gravy train…
32. W.S. Merwin  Noble, ecological, bull?
33. Dana Levin Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
34. Susan Wheeler Elliptical Poet.  At Princeton.
35. Tony Hoagland Has the racial controversy faded?
36. Mark Doty Sharon Olds’ little brother…
37. Frank Bidart The Poet as Greek Tragedian
38. Simon Armitage Tilda Swinton narrates his global warming doc
39. D.A. Powell He likes the weather in San Francisco…
40. Philip Levine Second generation Program Era poet
41. Ron Silliman Experimental to the bone, his blog is video central…
42. Mark Strand Plain-talking surrealist, studied painting with Josef Albers…
43. Dan Chiasson Influential poetry reviewer…
44. Al Filreis  On-line professor teaches modern poetry to thousands at once!
45. Paul Muldoon If you want your poem in the New Yorker, this is the guy…
46. Charles Bernstein Difficult, Inc.
47. Rae Armantrout  If John Cage wrote haiku?
48. Louise Gluck Bollingen Prize winner…
49. Ben Mazer 2012 Scarriet March Madness Champ, studied with Heaney, Ricks…
50. Carol Muske-Dukes California Laureate
51. Peter Riley His critical essay crushes the hybrid movement…
52. Lyn Hejinian California Language Poet…
53. Peter Gizzi 12 issues of O.blek made his name…
54. Franz Wright Cantankerous but blessed…
55. Nikky Finney 2011 National Book Award winner 
56. Garrison Keillor Good poems!
57. Camille Paglia  She’s baaaack!
58. Christian Bok Author of Canada’s best-selling poetry book
59. X.J. Kennedy Classy defender of rhyme…
60. Frederick Seidel Wears nice suits…
61. Henri Cole Poems “cannily wrought” –New Yorker
62. Thom Donovan Poetry is Jorie-Graham-like…
63. Marie Howe State Poet of New York

64. Michael Dickman The other twin…
65. Alice Oswald Withdrew from T.S. Eliot prize shortlist…
66. Sherman Alexie Poet/novelist/filmmaker…
67. J.D. McClatchy Anthologist and editor of Yale Review…
68. David Wagoner Edited Poetry Northwest until it went under…
69. Richard Wilbur A versifier’s dream…
70. Stephen Cramer His fifth book is called “Clangings.”
71. Galway Kinnell We scolded him on his poem in the New Yorker critical of Shelley…
72. Jim Behrle Gadfly of the BAP
73. Haruki Murakami The Weird Movement…
74. Tim Seibles Finalist for National Book Award in Poetry
75. Brenda Shaughnessy  Editor at Tin House…
76. Maurice Manning  The new Robert Penn Warren?
77. Eileen Myles We met her on the now-dead Comments feature of Blog Harriet
78. Heather McHugh Studied with Robert Lowell; translator.
79. Juliana Spahr Poetry and sit-ins
80. Alicia Ostriker Poetry makes feminist things happen…
81. William Childress His ‘Is Free Verse Killing Poetry?’ caused a stir…
82. Patricia Smith Legendary Slam Poet…
83. James Tate The Heart-felt Zany Iowa School…
84. Barrett Watten Language Poet Theorist.
85. Elizabeth Alexander Obama’s inaugural poet.
86. Alan Cordle Foetry changed poetry forever.
87. Dean Young Heart transplanted, we wish him the best…
88. Amy Beeder “You’ll never feel full”
89. Valzhyna Mort Franz Wright translated her from the Belarusian…
90. Mary Jo Salter Studied with Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard…
91. Seth Abramson Lawyer/poet who researches MFA programs and writes cheery reviews…
92. Amy Catanzano “My aim is to become incomprehensible to the machines.”
93. Cate Marvin  VIDA co-founder and co-director
94. Jay Wright First African-American to win the Bollingen Prize (2005)
95. Albert Jack His “Dreadful Demise Of Edgar Allan Poe” builds on Scarriet’s research: Poe’s cousin may be guilty…
96. Mary Ruefle “I remember, I remember”
97. John Gallaher Selfless poet/songwriter/teacher/blogger
98. Philip Nikolayev From Fulcrum to Battersea…
99. Marcus Bales Democratic Activist and Verse Poet
100. Joe Green And Hilarity Ensued…

THE FICTIONALIZING OF POETRY

Dan Chiasson: a critic you can bring home to mother.

The August 8 issue of The New Yorker happens to be good summer reading, almost.  The New Yorker is one of those publications which tells its sophisticated, liberal audience exactly what it wants to hear. Careful not to offend their hipster trust fund reader, the politics is predictably Godless and Left, and their cultural pieces follow suit—politically correct, with an undercurrent of naughtiness and snark.

The cartoons, with their shallow poignancy and black humor topicality, set the tone.  On page 62, a slightly nerdy father tells his bearded son, “You call it graduate school. I call it raising the debt ceiling!” The “Talk of the Town” editorial sides 100% with Obama on the debt issue, while the cartoon expresses the whole much better—the reader can side with the nerdy father, or the bearded son, depending on how they feel.  The print opinions of the magazine are always cartoonish; the cartoons sublime by comparison.

Stephen Greenblatt’s personal meditation in this New Yorker issue on “The Nature of Things” by the ancient philospher Lucretius, drives home two points: true science is driven by atheism and Lucretious has a lot to do with many of us having this idea today.  From a scholarly point of view, the piece is worthless, but the glimpes of Greenblatt’s hypochondriac mother are interesting.

The fiction piece, “What Have You Done?” by Ben Marcus is thoroughly enjoyable: The life of an obese, middle-aged, sarcastic, super-sensitive man with anger issues seeking dignity in a mistrustful, dysfunctional world, where women are flawed but guys are complete assholes, is described economically and with humor.  You care about the characters, but you also get to knowingly chuckle at Cleveland, family reunions, and masturbation.  The best fiction writers these days are secret stand-up comedians.  Think of F. Scott Fitzgerald plus Conan O’Brien. 

Brenda Shaughnessy has a poem on pgs 38-39 which is bouyantly lyrical.  Are poets starting to have fun, again?  Here’s the last five lines:

Heart, what art you?
War, star, part? Or less:

playing a part, staying apart
from the one who loves,
loveless.

The poem on pg. 59 by Starkey Flythe (the name alone probably got him published) is called “Greeks” and makes fun of them: “They made man beautiful/and women, too, though/occasionally her arms fell off.”

Alex Ross, in “A Critic At Large,” compares two recent biographies of Oscar Wilde.  Both books he dislikes; one sees Wilde as literary, the other as sexual; Ross, who tells us he is gay himself, leans towards the latter take; Ross focuses on Dorian Gray, Wilde’s Poe-esque classic, and homophobic Britain’s reaction to it.  Everything written on Wilde ends up being one part genius and two parts gossip and Ross is done in by the gossip, like everyone else.  Wilde courted the most beautiful woman in London but lost out to another Irishman, Bram Stoker. Wilde’s parents are fascinating figures in themselves, the mother an Irish patriot poet, and the era was a fascinating one. Ross instead keeps the light on Wilde, the secret criminal homosexual; it’s a sympathetic light, but it feels a little like Wilde is being used.

Ross quotes some of Wilde’s famous witticisms, such as, “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”  This brings us to the next article, Dan Chiasson’s review of two poets.

In Chiasson’s review there is no “concealing the artist;” the two poets are “revealed” as much as possible, not only as two women (there are drawings of them with pleasant smiles) but as autobiographical input to the themes of their books, and the reviewer joins in, not exactly revealing himself, but putting his gentle reviewer’s hands all over his subjects:

The title of Tracy K. Smith’s new book of poetry, “Life on Mars” (Graywolf $15), recalls the mid-century craze for all things Martian. Kids who grew up in the nineteen-forties and fifties, in the grip of Mars mania, had their own kids in the seventies; Smith, born in 1972 and a professor of creative writing at Princeton, was one of those kids, as was I. By then, Mars was a joke. The Viking images of the planet’s surface made it look as inhabitable as cat litter. David Bowie had a great, disillusioned single called “Life on Mars?” in 1973 (it inspired Smith’s title), about a girl forced to sit through the unendurable Hollywood fare of her parents’ childhoods—cavemen, cowboys, Martians, and the like. Wherever we were headed, in the vast, fathomless future, it wasn’t going to be outer space: the prospect of “life on Mars” was just another relic of our dreary life on earth.

Life on earth was particularly bad if you grew up black in the forties in Sunflower, Alabama, north of Mobile, as Smith’s father did. Not that he stuck around: he joined the Air Force, and eventually worked as an optical engineer on the Hubble space telescope.

Is Dan Chiasson dating Tracy K. Smith? You know…born in the 70s like her, and knowing so much about her and her dad. Did Tracy K. Smith tell him all this stuff?  Did her dad?  Did her book?  Did her poems?

Did Chiasson already know David Bowie’s “disillusioned single,” and, charmed by the allusion, made the decision to review Tracy K. Smith’s book?  Or, did he learn of Bowie’s song through Tracy K. Smith’s book?

Why does science in the 70s make Mars “a joke?” Does Chiasson think this is everyone’s opinion who was born in the “seventies” (as one must write it in The New Yorker)?  Does Tracy K. Smith say this? Or is this Chiasson’s truth?

The “cat litter” line is brilliant, sure, but why exactly is it in the review?

We certainly find Chiasson nice enough, but one is curious: what exactly is your job, anyway?

If it’s a mystery, one part is clear: Chiasson feels he has to present the book of poems the way editors want to present a book of poems: as a lively, cohesive, highly informative, novel. “Life on Mars” is a great name for a racehorse.  But am I going to read a book of poems so that I can revel in the cultural nuances of this theme? It would be an effort to read a single poem about what people born in the 70s felt about Mars, as seen through the eyes of a David Bowie single, by a kid with a dad who works on Hubble—much less an entire collection of poems. And if Chiasson’s response is: not all the poems are about Mars, why in Mars’ name does his review make it seem that way?

Chiasson is like the chatty parent embarrassed for their child, but forced to introduce them in a sympathetic light:

Smith cannot think about her father without thinking in galactic dimensions, which, paradoxically, minimize him: drawn to that scale, individual lives (even his) can seem puny, and private traumas (even hers) inconsequential.

Keep in mind we have traveled through two columns of a 6 column review (of two poets) and the poems have not spoken yet.

When Chiasson finally quotes Smith’s poetry, “a brief haunting lyric,” it goes like this: “We are here for what amounts to a few/hours,/a day at most./We feel around making sense of the terrain,/our own new limbs,/Bumping up against a herd of bodies/until one becomes home./Moments sweep past. The grass bends/then learns again to stand.”

Chiasson rushes in: “The grass bent under the weight of a human body is, in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”…

Oh, brother.

Grass?  What happened to Mars?

The other poet under review, Dana Levin, gets the same treatment. 

She drips with Chiasson’s good intentions.  Even when he quotes her poetry directly, it’s hard to tell where Levin ends and Chiasson begins:

Deriving “This from That” in her poem of that name, she follows the “Aurelian,” or butterfly collector, who studies “the emergence of butterflies/from chrysalides,” or dactyl from dactyl, the way a poet works: “of fighter jets/from number of charts,/of syllables/from kettledrums.”

With the nifty insertion of “dacyl from dactyl,” one gets the impression Chiasson is re-writing her poem.

But darn it all, he means well.

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