THE FLOWER WILL THINK

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The flower will think itself a stem.

The flower will cling to roots—and listen to them.

The flower will fear the light

And let the message of the stem ignite

Fear and trepidation, as the role

Of different parts confuses the whole.

The way your stem sways

Is a boon to my days.

The gathering your roots do

Is surely a benefit to you.

But I want your flower to see

How beautiful your flower is to me.

Your flower, in the light,

Is better than the root and its night.

Your face is the reason for nothing but clothes,

The reason for every root and every stem—

Your face is much better than those.

Your beautiful face embarrasses them.

 

 

 

THOUGHTS ON LOVE

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My love sent 20 fire trucks when I burned the toast.

My love hunted me down and jailed me when I crossed the border by accident.

My love sent me from the university when I wrote the wrong word.

My love arranged to have me married to her.

My love blew herself up after crying out in adoration my holy name.

My love waited in the dark, ambushed me and imprisoned me to stare at me.

My love aborted me for a good reason as I cried out in the dark.

My love had me, held me up to the light, and then devoted her life to me.

Afraid I might be hit by a fire truck, I told my love goodbye.

THE TRAIN PICKS UP THE CROWD. AND ME.

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The Scarriet editor’s morning commute.

Do you care about others? Sucker.

Oscar Wilde’s father had three illegitimate children when he married Oscar’s mother—they were raised as cousins by other family members. Wilde’s family, Irish Catholic, was despised by the ruling Brits. Oscar Wilde had two children with a beautiful woman who was courted by Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.  Oscar Wilde’s U.S. tour made him famous and loved. The trial in England which ruined him was due to class, not homosexuality—Wilde threatened violence to an English aristocrat who left him a calling card with the word “sodomite” on it, seen by one other person; Wilde brought the slander suit, which sealed his doom, unable to see his wife or children at the end of his life.

My heavy thoughts keep my laughter aloft.

Islam and Feminism will fall in love and save mankind.

Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” is a poem—with discrete rhymes. Poetry has no public. Wait. It does. 143 million views on You Tube for “Video Games.”

I didn’t talk to you because I love you. Because I wanted to.

You’re so miserable, I can tell exactly what you’re thinking.

Happiness hides thoughts. Misery reveals them.

You don’t know someone by their mind. The mind is what you never know.

No one knows what anyone else is thinking. Happily.

Remember when the Rolling Stones were good?  “2,000 Light Years From Home”

I was at the Grolier bookstore in Harvard Square on the evening of February 17 for the SpoKe issue no. 4 reading, Kevin Gallagher, editor.  I have two pieces in the issue on Romanian poetry, one on the poet Dan Sociu—both solicited by Ben Mazer.

Jeff Bezos, owner of Washington Post, does business with the CIA, through Amazon—a recent $600 million contract. Holy crap.

Politics is hearsay, science observation.

 

MY EMOTIONS CONQUERED ME

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I don’t think it was you. I don’t think it was me.

Were you blind, too? Did you see?

My emotions conquered me.

I remember, before a kiss, drinking a cold glass of water;

In all my love adventures, that strange contrast is what I most remember.

That sudden cold drink. I don’t remember her.

I changed my mind a thousand times

In those years when I was beautiful, and making rhymes

And had curls and curls of dark brown hair

And woke, forgetting her.  And nothing was fair.

It is the greatest joy

When girlish qualities inhabit a boy

Who is yet a man and poetry

Gets you through it all even when you are a jerk and that’s what happened to me.

I made too much of those vain attempts. I wept thoroughly

For others’ verse. I derided and left it for dead in my poetry.

I suffered in the brown rooms

But recovered in well-lit ones.

You should have seen those rectangular rooms! And the furniture!

The women came and went. Even her.

Emotions! But love is not these things!

Love flowed away in the advice they gave me.

Love lies in the cold and icy springs.

 

WHY DID YOU MAKE WHAT WAS BEAUTIFUL UGLY AND WRONG?

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You were at the center of my song.

Why did you make what was beautiful, ugly and wrong?

You loved my insights and my face.

Two who love, and always love, cannot know disgrace.

Why do you value choice when the choice destroys

All other choices and all other joys?

Is it worth choosing, if the choice rips

What can choose away?

Why let a moment ruin the entire day?

Life is simple, why do we look for tips?

Look at life! All these girls and boys…

The only choice I want: when to kiss your lips—

Now, or when night brings a vow, a poem, a play?

 

 

 

PRESIDENT’S DAY

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It is always best to argue from simple truths; the details are interesting, but not necessary; if they were, no decision or action based on thought would be possible.

Truth is dynamic; it doesn’t curl up passively with a bunch of facts—the passive/aggressive fact-checkers never seem to understand this.

Statistics are for losers. Winning is the only thing. History is written by the winners.

But when a fact, lost to all, suddenly turns up and puts the smiling villain in jail, we exult, we cheer the triumph of justice. Colombo turns on his heel as he is about to exit, and asks one more question. Every interesting crime show, every movie of thoughtful demeanor; romance, comedy, tragedy—all hinge on a detail hidden from view, until the denouement reveals it.

But the important hidden fact was hidden by other facts—clarity and truth occur when we get clear of unnecessary facts and details.

Truth is complex; every situation in life is immensely complex: a picture, a video, a view, a vow, a law, a kiss, a structure, an assemblage, an idea, a thought—all so complex that comprehension and action are blind when confronting the infinite factual complexity of even the simplest things life presents to us.

Truth is complex, but it always emerges simply.

The very simple is not truthful; but the truthful is always very simple in our understanding of it.

A mountain of facts hides the truth, even as the truth is a mountain of facts. Facts hide themselves in the truth—what finds the truth is not the truth.

Simplicity hates and betrays all that is detailed and true until that moment when simplicity finds what is true.

Hate, the opposite of love, finally comes to it.

Love is always the goal; hate, looking for love, always the opposite of love, the seeker; love cannot search for love, truth cannot look for truth, the good cannot find good. I told many half-truths to get here, my love, and I am here because of you. The ambiguous assertions are in the past, always in the past, just as facts and more facts unnecessarily clog up our days.

We now live in an Information Age, such that ignorance is sexy like never before. The more information there is, the more of it must be ignored to find the truth. The success of Trump demonstrates this, to the wailing and whining horror of the educated Left.

Not that ‘too many facts as the enemy of truth’ is lost on the Left.

I realize I am stating a truism.

Everyone confronts “inconvenient” facts—doctored data, religious and philosophical contradictions, party-platform gaps in logic, dearly held beliefs with hidden flaws, old actions or quotes from our former selves—anxiety greets us all—more, the more we are in the public eye—as we desperately patch daily the leaks in our ideological and personal boats. Whether we are a Facebook opining Buddhist monk or Catholic priest, a Muslim American feminist, a gay conservative, or anyone who is terribly honest with their opinions, we struggle daily to make our ideas fit with the world, and more and more in this Information Age we live in, it gives us fits.

Even comedians are crashing and burning these days. Sages of the comedic left are having an especially hard time; the rapaciously principled right are now having their moment in the sun; even comedy is moving to the right; the right is, at this moment, funnier than the left—which has dominated the talking classes since the Kennedy/Nixon debates. Almost overnight, the Left finds itself trapped in a politically-correct corner, making nasty faces—a scared, anti-free speech, rat. The impulse could be said to be the same on the Right. Close the borders ‘to be safe.’ The left is shutting up the right ‘to be safe.’ Fear is messing everybody up.

No one is immune. As I write this piece, in a calm, logical, state of mind, I hear some readers in my ear, “You support Trump, that ASSHOLE, you ASSHOLE???”  Even though I haven’t defended Trump at all; the ‘triggered’ tend not to be discerning, but I realize “success of Trump” and comparing the left to a “rat” will damn me in some minds forever.

There is the truth, and then ‘how the truth gets talked about,’ and they are not the same. I do not pretend to know much about the former; I’m only attempting some advice about the latter.

Here’s how to make sense of all this, and the simpler, the better:

There are two impulses, that of Greece and Rome. Community and Empire.

Community is where “reasonable” people, friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, interact;the life most of us know most of the time. This is the realm of cat photos and birthday parties. Conversation. Sleep. Cleaning. Work.

Empire is where political and religious differences exist, aesthetic judgment, the world of Hillary and Trump. Empire is where human beings on a grand scale are managed. United, divided, and motivated.

We all live in both places. Uneasily. Because these two worlds are very different, yet they constantly bleed into each other, and impact each other, and judge each other.

The Empire is more abstract, more distant, and yet it has the upper hand. Poor people, people with less education, resent the Empire, and just want to live in a community. But when the poor, or anyone outside the thinking of the Empire, get ambitious, they make a move toward Empire; for all ambitious people strive to take part, in some way, in the ways of the Empire.

In the community, religion is habit, tradition, culture, ceremony.

In the Empire, religion is theology, mass good, mass evil, terrorism, conformity, ignorance, or enlightenment.

This divide, community and empire, is simple and real.

It is at the heart of every single conflict today.

And the complexity arises because of differences which continually flow in two different directions: debates within the empire—vital, significant, often violent, where the ambitious clash—also run headlong into the community.

Community believes in community, but ideas of Empire may be fostered against community, to destroy community, since Empire is rapaciously ambitious. Community looks out for people. Empire often does not. Community is default common sense. Empire is whatever it wants to be.

Obama’s birth certificate, Russia and the 2016 election—just two examples of how Empire issues dominate the news in extremely divisive ways: empire is where animals in the wild battle over turf; community is mother and her cubs, the babies in the nest. Holocaust is empire, not community action. Religious wars are empire phenomena; religions of peace reflect desires of the community.

But wait. Does this mean all large, global actions are bad, and the good resides only in small gatherings?

My thesis is falling victim to the very thesis I stated—no thesis can describe the world.

Not really. Community actions can be large. They don’t have to be small. Think of the Marshall Plan.  Greece had wide influence, and all that was glorious about Greece fed the grandeur that was Rome. Rome is what incorporates Greece, spreads it, vulgurizes it; the core genius of a Socrates is diluted by the speeches of a Cicero. Shakespeare invents the sitcom, Bach, the Top 40 Hit.

The genius, the good, the beautiful, are too important to hide, but Empire is that which mass produces and distorts these things in order to control and expand beyond the community, producing theft and wealth for Empire beneficiaries, leaders who naturally hate genius and goodness and beauty, just as one brother will envy and hate an innocent and glorious sibling.

But is Rome always bad? Are sitcoms and top 40 hits always bad? No.

And yet the genius makes the good happen in the first place.  We shouldn’t forget that.

Community will not be cowed by empire and will rise up to fight it—and Rome and the British Empire fell, though Empire lives on, and will never be cowed, either.

The vastness of the battle is confusing to many—and ideological differences harden due to pride; community is humble, so how can it be large? Stupidity is easy, and why should it not rush into the arms of a vast and wealthy Empire?

There’s one more division that needs to be elucidated, and with community/empire as a significant division in the background, here is the one real duality which is the key to understanding an ideologically confusing world.

How do we understand the world? Religiously, secularly, patriotically, hedonisticaly, aesthetically, intellectually?

This should help, and this is all this is meant to be—not an ideology, but an aid to understanding.

The world is either pro-business or anti-business.

Money, wealth, happiness, transactions of all kinds, move in two basic directions—either from buyer to seller, or in some other direction—taxes to the state, tithes to the church, or payoffs to criminals.

The more wealth flows from buyer to seller in a fair and enlightened exchange, and the less it flows in some other direction, the better. And this is the one criterion with which we should be most concerned.

The greatest hope for mankind is an economic one; and no other fact is more important for the world’s community, for its people, than the dear wish that the current leader of the free world, stand up to communism in its cult-religious and all its other forms, to nation-killing capitalism in all its forms, and to Empire scare-mongering environmentalism in all its forms.

And what does this entail? The answer is simple, even as we bask in the glory of community, and struggle with the many contradictory messages of empire—to foster a healthy and just environment within every community for business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT A MAN WANTS TO DO TO YOU

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What a man wants to do to you

Is way beyond my control.

What he will not do is write you a love poem,

What he will not do is the nothing we understand as the soul.

We are computers, and the more things computers do,

The more inputs create responses less specifically you.

There you are. The radiant hair,

The beautiful face, and now everywhere.

The larger inhibition is always the larger face

Until we miss the part in the mysterious whole,

Whose ongoing progress keeps us moving to a larger place.

Where are you going? I was just beginning a song

In honor of you, my desire being so wrong.

LET BEAUTY BREED

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Let beauty breed.

Do you think there was any other reason I loved you?

It was your beauty. And the need

For beauty is all there is in love.

Brokenhearted, I turned philosopher,

And every precept is born of her.

It is not you anymore.

Beauty is wealth, and you have made me poor.

She provides me beauty every day

Since you made that sour face and went away.

She smiled on me, and then

I acquired temper, folly, understanding,

Which escapes other men.

Oh sure, there is grime

In bus stations and train stations.

There’s great indifference. I don’t care.

Lack of beauty is no crime.

Resentment of beauty is everywhere.

You’ll love me again. Take your time.

 

 

 

 

 

THE ARGUMENT IS ALL I KNOW

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All science depends on observation –a scientist

I really don’t intend to come across as contrary, or slow,
But in matters of the heart, the argument is all I know,
The dispute of the heart which hurts me blow by blow.
We don’t know anything except by the wheel:
All knowledge is the ever-returning pulse we feel.
To demonstrate how you don’t know what you know
Think of time as a pulse, a beat, which becomes so slow,
The beat becomes one continuous impulse—no beat at all.
Or the opposite: pulses so fast, the space between the beats so small,
The speed blurs the pulses into one; so again, no beat at all.
In both cases, one pulse, one thought, one flame.
In each case, incredibly slow, or incredibly fast,
Super slow or super quick, a pulse of one.
We experience opposites exactly the same!
The truth just uttered lies in the past.
Now kiss me. My argument is done.

THE ONLY LOVE IS PUBLIC LOVE

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The only love is public love; in public you will know

It is love. Otherwise, hide. Otherwise, go.

In private realms, hate, as well as love, breeds

And privately even love has its unkind needs,

So public love is the only thing love knows.

Even privately, love is not love unless it shows,

And since hate has its reasons—let’s see

What they are. Nothing is proven privately.

Privacy is for slumber and fantasy

And I love to sleep. But my poetry

Will only be good if I agree

In public to love you privately.

This is why I steal away to you at night

With my poetry and my wishes and my light.

 

 

 

I RETURN TO YOU IN DREAMS

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I return to you in dreams!

Let me lean near you, and inform you of dreams.

A dream is more than a dream seems.

Do not insult dreams—especially dreams of you!

Do poets presume poems and dreams untrue?

Poems are false, I know they are, but not dreams, not dreams of you.

Dreams! Dreams are real, and you exist again in dreams, found

By my life, as you existed, passive but profound.

The dreams remember the years,

The years when nights and promises were true.

Returning is what dreams prefer to do—

Take my hand! Look! Dreamland!

This is how I return, in my mind’s softest robe, to you.

And you return in winding silence too,

Past openings where the smoke

Hangs heavily where paths have made

Entrances down the entrances to shade,

Darkness offering secret, trembling memories of light

Where you spoke to me by trees one summer night.

In the dream I see you there:

Proud, beautiful face!

On either side of your face, the perfumed hair,

Your eyes loving me and mocking me as much as mockery might dare

In the smile which melts into the mist of your race,

The proud chin, the nostrils of an ancient shape,

Which puts me in mind of all

That might take place in a palace banquet hall

By the feast, seated, arms of the lemon, lyre and grape,

Drapery with patterns of circles, strange patterns of the heart

Where you, by fire-light, later undress and recline,

Letting me know, with one look, your entire mind.

These dreams are returning, my morning soon to be my night;

The languid half-falling music of dreams,

Dreams, dreams, dreams, setting right

The wrongs, the inevitable sorrow

Which marches forward in a cold tomorrow.

 

 

ALL REPORTS ARE FALSE

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The mind is what finally acts

After it receives a false collection of facts.

The truth forced you to pause

When you saw the real cause.

Your mind was sorely deceived

By facts. It was not the truth, as you believed.

A pile of facts, which do not cohere,

Is the basis of truth somewhere, but entirely false here.

You wanted a smoke; you found a cigarette,

But the smoke, the love—you haven’t found that yet.

Talk to people face to face, people with the world on their back.

Listen to them. Then you’ll wish for a soundtrack.

You see reports of truth suppressed,

And understand why when you see truth, undressed.

There was a reason the cloud hung around the sun.

They weren’t going to ask you. You weren’t the one.

 

 

THE STUPID WANT TO KNOW

Field of Flowers, 1910 - Egon Schiele

The stupid want to know what they don’t need to know.

They ask questions all day.

They are stupid that way.

The truth will only be embarrassing; the wise

Know how to avoid embarrassment. They say a few words and go.

Wisdom knows what not to know.

The eyes are trying to catch up to the brain which is trying to catch up to the eyes.

I have no faith in poetry, and art, its superficial depiction.

I can show you the truth of the truth—in this fiction.

We had a lot of time to kill—the pressure was on to talk.

I suggested we kiss for awhile, after taking a walk.

The less I shared my knowledge of the flowers

The better. We kissed in them for hours.

 

 

 

 

LOVE IS STUPIDITY

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Love is stupidity.

It wasn’t passion, because passion

Can make anything for a moment with anyone happen.

For a few days, it seemed to me

It was my passionate poetry.

But then I found out she had neither heart nor mind

For it. We looked at it and she was blind.

It must have been the momentary glee

That bubbled up when she laughed with me

Over something really stupid. I looked her in the eye

And something happened, but I

Have no idea what made us connect.

Love is something you never expect.

I think it was stupidity.

And a little bit, my poetry.

And more, her heart, vulnerable, because she could not see

My hunger. Or hers, for me.

 

 

WHEN I ENTERED THE ORGY

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When I entered the orgy, it seemed I had entered a brawl.
It did not seem that anyone was making love at all.
It was dark, and sounds I heard only filled me with fear.
I had come for love. Something wasn’t right here.
I began to see in the darkness that the lovers were sad and old;
Is love this brutal? At the book reading, that wasn’t what I was told.
When she explained love to me, she didn’t do it well.
I thought it was more like poetry.  This seems like hell.

DIDN’T ONE LOVE ME?

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Dreaming of being loved,

I weep with joy to think when that joy will begin.

But none loves me, or seems to love me.

Not enough love is death and too much love is sin.

I wake up. I dress. I try to be polite.

I squint in the sun. I sing to myself at night.

Sometimes when you are loved, it’s hard to tell:

One told me loving me was a sickness and she was trying to get well.

I kept track of violins, of factories, of whispers in the hall.

I concluded I should be enthusiastic, but not beg love of all.

I didn’t ask for a lot. I had a little fun.

But I was willing to give. I was only looking for one.

Didn’t one love me? What did I have to do?

Was it that I looked, and didn’t find you?

Another loved me when I did not love her;

It was a pleasure when we were together.

It was a sweet friendship made in regions above.

But it wasn’t love.

 

WE ARE ARTISTS, EVERY ONE

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We are artists, every one.
We see more in the shade than in the sun.
We see more of the twisted body on the couch
Than art can depict, never mind “My kid could do that.” Ouch!
We see more in the laughter of Valerie
Than we see in an art gallery.
Valerie really hurt me. See her selfie?
Valerie has been on my mind all day.
Greek statue, you are great, but you won’t make Valerie go away.

THEY’RE NOT GOING TO THINK WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO THINK

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They’re not going to think what you want them to think,
Even when they’re in your arms,
After reading your poem and sighing.
And you? What will you be thinking?
How love lights you up, but already seems to be dying?

They’re not going to love what you want them to love,
Even when their lips are on yours
After reading your poem and sighing.
And you? What do you think of love,
Knowing that love, a fire, just like a fire, lives as a fire by dying?

They’re not going to say what you want them to say,
Even when they say what they want you to say.
After reading your poem, they cannot say
Why you cannot say anything, or why you are sighing.
And so you wrote a poem today.
Which already seems to be dying.

INDIE INDIA

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The poet and painter Sushmita Gupta.

There’s something happening in poetry at present which ought to make many very proud, and a smaller, but a still significantly large amount of people, uncomfortable.

The best poetry in English right now is being produced by non-MFA poets from India.

We can name this phenomenon anything we want—some have called it the Bolly Verse phenomenon. Its center is Kolkata, or West Bengal, where a great deal of poems today are written in English. Kolkata (Calcutta), which we hear is an enchanting, mystical, modern city, was the cultural capital of British India. Rabindranath Tagore, the Tolstoy/Hugo/Poe/Borges/Shakespeare of India, was Bengali.

Contemporary Indian poets are inspired both by modern ways and old leather books from the 19th century.

These amateur Indian poets, amateur in the best sense of that word, are dimly aware of Whitman and William Carlos Williams, but they are just as likely to be inspired by Rumi or Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

These Indian poets have an advantage over American sophisticates—who are brutally and self-consciously modern.

Rumi sells far more books in America than any modern American poet—Rumi’s popularity rolls over the chilling influence of MFA programs; Rumi has an immense following in spite of American MFA-program success—a kind of pyramid-scheme success, if one is honest, and which, to be critically valid, demands a kind of anti-populist, historically-blank, hyper-individualist poetry: the kind published by university presses; academically rewarded—but since popularity is considered by sophisticates to be a bad thing—MFA-produced poetry has an almost nonexistent readership.

These indie Indian poets are not consciously writing against the MFA.  And we do not bring these Indian poets to the world’s notice to make an anti-MFA point. Live, and let live, is a fine motto. These Indian poets have as many admiring readers on Facebook as the most successful American poets do, with the exception of poets like Billy Collins and Mary Oliver—but even these are, relatively speaking, no lions; Rumi is a thousand times more influential.

These indie Indians are probably a little better, however, just because they are not beholden to Modernist or MFA sensibilities—which is sometimes a bee hive, death star, hodgepodge of crackpot, over-educated impulses.

These indie Indians are good, in large part because they are good in the way poems have been good and will always be good, despite the Modernist, MFA detour—confusing many Western hair-shirt wearers since 1913.

Joie Bose writes like a foul-mouthed Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  The foul-mouthed part is not “modern.”  The ancient Roman poets were foul-mouthed.  Peel the Modernist onion and you find ancient, and then perhaps nothing—the good poet happily and desperately on their own.  There is no need to advertise Bose as modern—because she’s good.

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The poetry of Joie Bose, and to be less pretentious, the poems of Joie Bose, belong to the center of what poetry has always been; when you’re drunk and you get up close to someone at a party, or any situation where you find yourself in a position to really hear what a person is really thinking—not what they think about X, Y, or Z-–but what they are thinking, as a person navigating this absurd, strange, beautiful, threatening world just like you, and navigating it means feeling along with the thinking, you get the total human experience.  Too much of poetry is somebody thinking about something and then coming up with a poem (let me use this image! let me use this rhyme!)—the good poets actually do less work and skip that step of “thinking about what they are going to write” and instead plunge right into it, so we experience the thinking—the thinking does not orchestrate the correct sort of speech behind the facade of the poem.  The thinking is the poem.

And let’s quote a Joie Bose poem so you’ll see exactly what we mean:

Stop talking! Shut your trap,
You better shut the fuck up!

Revolution is revolting and
we see that it’s the same
phrases and people on both sides
not knowing much about the cause
for these causes are mere pawns
and their quest is the same.

Why do you get up in the morning
Everyday and gear up to get out of bed?

I do, to board a train called Hope
It passes by many stations
For my destination changes.

I am a vagabond. Home is where I am.

People die when I rub them off
And I don’t believe in obituaries, ecologies and funerals.

Don’t ask me to stop if you can’t be me
And when you become, you will cease to care.

This poem is very heavy on the attitude.  And to its credit.

Because that’s what poetry is.  It’s attitude.

Think about it. Poetry isn’t science. When Keats famously said beauty is truth, he was presenting an attitude.  Think of Byron.  He was all attitude.

Poe made great efforts to get across the important point that poetry is neither moral nor intellectual, but resides in an area between the two.  Once poetry attempts to be moral, it dies, because poetry is too truthfully subjective to be moral; when poetry becomes too intellectual, it perishes for the same reason, losing the subjective thrill which is the key to poetry’s expression.  This does not mean that the moral and intellectual faculties of the poet are absent; the poet is aware of these—but the reader wants cohesion, not precepts.

Joie Bose’s poem has its reasons. “Causes are mere pawns” is the same thing as saying causes are effects—which they certainly can be; there is a sound and playful philosophy going on here.  The way hope inside hope rides a train which stops, but doesn’t, carries more interest—the poet is calling the shots, and that’s refreshing; she’s not letting the world and its stock images (train stations, destinations, these normally dull objects of sorrow and limitation) spoil her fun.  But this is not to say the poet is making a train a nice thing on a whim—the whole poem follows out the entire essence of what the poet is saying at every point, and, finally, “Don’t ask me to stop if you can’t be me” which is piling on more of that “shut the fuck up” attitude—and “cease to care” opposes “hope,” and these two opposites interact precisely because the poet’s attitude is strongly expressed—we connect with the poet who apparently doesn’t give a fuck (or does she?)  There’s a person in Bose’s poem—one is bumping into an attractive stranger, not hearing a lecture.  Her poem is exciting.

The poet Sushmita Gupta also makes poetry from a plain, homely, yet gracious place—poetry coming out of a tradition which sells the human.  As with Bose, Sushmita Gupta is not interested in intellectual or aesthetic distance, something modern poets often do—and why must they do it? What if poetry is harmed by intellectual distancing, and modern poetry has made a horrible miscalculation?  For calculation is at the center of modern poetry—if nothing else, it is highly intellectual and historically and theoretically conscious, and if it does take its calculations seriously—and this means miscalculation is possible—the moderns need to at least acknowledge this.  In speaking of a “modern temper,” and speaking of it pejoratively, we are sure our modern readers, every one, will say to themselves, “Well this isn’t my attitude! I have no “modern” limitations! Scarriet is building a straw man!” This indeed may be true, but any sophisticated reader who reads the following poem by Sushmita will find themselves immediately confronting what their modern education tells them is insufficient, even as their very soul is swept away by the beauty of this poem:

Why Me

Beyond the forest
By the river swollen,
Stood a single tree.
Often times,
I ran away
From it all,
And sat underneath,
Where branches,
From the sun,
Barely covered me.

One evening,
On a day of betrayal,
I sat sobbing.
And by the time
The sun was gone,
And tiny stars
Just began showing,
My quiet sobbing
Had turned to a howl.
Past hurt,
Came crawling,
Out of deep dungeons,
They were on a prowl.
I asked,
Of the wildly hungry,
Wind,
Why me.
Why always me.
That angered
The dark
And brazen
Wind to a frenzy.
It threw me
In the river,
Of fast flowing,
Spiraling waters,
That was used to
Smoothening rocks,
In a day,
To pebbles.
I was blown away,
By just that one question.
Why me.
I groped,
I screamed,
I cried for help,
But the waters rumbled,
The winds roared,
My cries drowned,
To a tiny yelp.
I was cruised,
Over rocks,
Over branches,
Till I was thrown,
On the shores,
Of an unknown land.
My clothes in tatters,
My head and hair,
Covered in wet sand.
The sun
Was beginning to rise,
But I just wished,
For sleep,
For rest,
For some
Peaceful time.
Happy to be alive,
I once again asked,
But more in gratitude,
You saved me o divine lord,
Why me.
Why in spite of my failings,
Why me.

This poem by Sushmita Gupta succeeds not because it’s telling a highly realistic story; it is not successful for any modern reason at all—it succeeds almost mathematically—the pure timing of “why me,” its musical repetition. If Sushmita’s poem is mathematical, it seems unobtrusively musical, instead, seeming to spring directly from the heart. It succeeds where all great art succeeds; not in some critical guide book—but with the audience.

We found this poem by Payal Sharma  printed out on Facebook recently, and include it in our random piece on a great nation’s poetry; it reminds us of Emily Dickinson or even Sylvia Plath.  We have no great motive for sharing this, except as a pleasing addition to the vague idea that Indian women writing by their wits alone are making great poetry today.  Payal lives in the north of India, works in an office, is intelligent, passionate, and counts among her influences Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, Wilfred Owen, Lord Byron, Kahil Gibran, Mirza Ghalib, Sarojini Naidu, and Rabindranath Tagore. If William Shakespeare or W.H. Auden or Oscar Wilde find you in offices in Mexico, childhoods in India, or MFA seminars in the U.S.A., they find you.  That’s all that matters.

In the following poem by Payal, we find “exhaling sad to inhale relief” exquisite, and the conclusion of the poem sounds like the pure yelp of divine Miss Emily herself: “demurely silent pearls, which nobody earned more so!”

As you may

Half drowned,
treading through the narrow waters
in numbing black void,
greased with slippery layers
of lard extracted from my old epithets.

Dear lover, come as you may-

A chrome door to murky corridor,
leading to the virgin smells
of crushed black olives
in medieval castles.

A faint hint of corrosive carbon,
peered with miraculous oxygen,
released in deep audible
breaths of night trees,
exhaling sad to inhale relief.

A knight in decent armour,
sent by gown-less fairies
from the oppressed villages of
valour and essential ignorance.

A tang of air from several yards,
carrying the mental notes
from past teachers,
coiled around my neck for a while,
like demurely silent pearls,
which nobody earned more so!

~~~~

These three Indian poets, Joie, Sushmita, and Payal are different, independent—and magnificent!

We are proud to be able to present them.

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Payal Sharma

THE BEAUTIFUL GIRL WITH THE UGLY VOICE

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She’s beautiful, and would be my choice;

She’s beautiful, but I hesitate by that ugly voice.

How often do we experience the soul?

I do. When I look at a woman who is beautiful.

But then, I draw near, and before the soul makes a choice,

I listen to the soul—in the fearful particulars in the voice.

I know that sometimes the beautiful is a trick

To make use of me, to eat me, to kill me with a decorated stick.

The vines winding around the tree are snakes

And after the lovemaking the soul in terror wakes.

After the love flashes in the eye

The hand with the knife reaches around and you die.

The weeping love, the poem whispered in sorrow,

Is forgotten in laughter when I’m murdered tomorrow.

What is the soul? The soul is not the chosen, but the choice.

Who are you? That music. Where is it? What happened to your voice?

 

 

POEM, JANUARY 2017

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I’m the only good person in the world. White American liberals, who raised me, are hypocritical and racist. And then I hear that in other countries, in Latin countries, in India, all over the world, the slightest hint of darker skin generates the most vicious bigotry one can imagine. So, then, who is good? If where I’m from is bad, and elsewhere is bad, who is good? Only I am good. If I don’t know you, because you live far away, you are either bad, or, if you are good, you don’t know me, so you don’t share your goodness with me! You withhold your goodness from me, so how can you be good? And if I read or hear about someone who is good? That’s not good! I don’t experience the advertised. The advertised is not true goodness. Nothing that is advertised is the whole story. Who runs to me? Who throws money at me? Who tries to really get to know me? Who in the world has the courage to really say what they are thinking to me? No one. You are all bad. But I know exactly what I am thinking all the time. I am going to listen to Mozart now. I am going to write a beautiful poem now. There is so much beauty in the world! It makes me cry. And none of it is trying to be beautiful. It just is. No story is needed. Once the story begins, it is an advertisement, a lie. Only I am good. I don’t need a story. I’m the only one who I know, for certain, is good, because I’m the only one who I know, and good, to be good, must be known! I don’t hate you, I just don’t know you. I want to be honest. I want to report the facts that I know. I’m the only good person in the world.

USE YOUR BEAUTY FOR LOVE

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Use your beauty for love, not control,
And I will give you, for this love, my soul.
And since beauty on a person doesn’t last,
It might be good to put it to good use fast.
If you fail at love with your fortunate good looks,
Shit. You might as well experience love in books;
No love is going to be possible at all
If you fuck it up, when you are beautiful and tall!

If you have doubts about your beauty, listen to me:
I am partial to myself, so if your vanity
Is not something you value much,
Trust my eyes, my poetry, my love, if not my touch.
You don’t have to give your love to me;
I know you are beautiful and I know that means you’re free.
But believe me: love isn’t going to be possible at all
If you won’t accept you are beautiful and tall.

Use your love for beauty, not control,
And discover the secret to poetry’s soul.
Since beauty in poetry lasts forever,
It will be a profitable endeavor
For poetry, to work on your poem’s good looks,
If you want your poems to live forever in books,
To comfort those not poetic at all,
Who don’t have love, or beauty, and are not even a little bit tall.

 

 

WHAT CATHERINE KNEW

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There was very little Catherine could actually do:

Read a book. Put on jogging clothes and jog down the avenue.

Be slightly useful to a boss; friendly to a friend, or two.

What made Catherine interesting was what Catherine knew.

The important facts of her life were few:

Children, none.

Job, a joke, but at least that meant she could have some fun.

She knew the secret of a wandering star

Of poetry. This is what made her superior by far.

This is what allowed her to seem kind

To a friend—betrayed, because she had been unkind;

She had tried hard to love with her body but had been too angry in her mind.

Catherine learned her friend’s secret and decided to be kind.

When a good secret lives in the head it isn’t that bad to be blind.

 

 

 

THE PORN OF US IN LOVE

 

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The porn of us in love is the most forbidden.

On trains, in marches, people push and shove,

Speeches, episodes, scenes are watched, but we are hidden.

Those attributes are anonymous, cheap.

The common story arc comes to a climax and we weep.

The naturally cautious are not about to go crazy.

Love can’t last; we are tongue-tied, distracted, banal, lazy.

You can see right away what the problem is;

What is her is hers and what is his is his.

The porn of us in love has many obstacles.

The first is that it’s too unique to be imaginable.

Marriages set up house and meal.

You don’t find love in marriage. Get real.

The porn of us in love is nearly impossible.

The porn of us in love is not quite laughable.

The porn of us in love is so hidden that it has no will.

Since all of us are types, you must love all men in the man.

You might write a poem about our porn, but I don’t think you can.

 

 

 

I DON’T THINK ABOUT YOU, I HOPE YOU DONT THINK ABOUT ME

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I don’t think about you; I hope you don’t think about me.

I’m not worth thinking about—I can’t understand poetry

Unless I know what the poet looks like, and the song

Makes the poet dance. Even then I tend to get it wrong.

The strings are languid. The drums are fast.

Can you admit love will never last?

I don’t think about you. I hope you don’t think about me.

You protest—with words like “infinity.”

You’re my ex: it’s February, and there you are, a Christmas tree.

Things end. That’s how my life works. That’s how I fight my war.

Things must end. I end them. Things have ended for me before.

“But what about memory,” you ask, and look at me in tears.

But even then I wasn’t moved. And now it’s been years.

THE MORE IN LOVE

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Love! The more in love,

The easier jealousy can kill

The love. One whispered word

Thwarts a happy lover’s will.

Sad, in the garden, sad, in the street.

No where and no one, jealousy

Said, other loves, might possibly meet.

Other loves? What is wrong with others?

The more madly in love, the more we sweep aside

Everything. In the walls of love things hide.

Friends, whispers, rumors, a meaningless joke about mothers.

The more in love, the more a whisper manages to make its way in

To conquer sighs the lovers used to conquer sin.

My love! I found out too late!

A word was dropped in the river—

Your river, our river, which flowed with love—to water a river of hate.

 

 

 

 

COMPARISON, OR WHY I CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT YOU

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Love compares its way to religion,

Religion compares its way to love.

Religion does not save a person, but a people;

Your religion is always theirs, not yours.

None of the things which arouse pity

Should be the goal, but rather, those things

Arousing pity should be escaped and surpassed.

Love involves partiality to an extreme degree,

Or it is not love, but there’s nothing partial about love;

You either love, or you don’t, and its completeness

Defines its love, and by comparison, nothing else is,

For you, and everything is, for you in love with them.

SINCE ETERNITY IS DEATH

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Since eternity is death, I’ll take this hour as my bride,
This hour! When the light of the sky is leaving
And beauty begins to coincide with light’s deceiving
In that hour when all the phantom lights begin to be lit inside.

This bride of mine shall be beautiful, in the same hour
When youth and its maturity mix with time—
To land in a splash, and linger in leaves of leafy rhyme
After leaping by the smoke-exhaling river and perfume-damaged flower.

Someone laughs. The blessed know when it comes,
The hour when the child is no longer a child,
And this is when you lie down in the wild
And weep, and your heart plays eternal drums.

There is an hour when some of my dreams come true—
An hour I spend dreaming of an hour, lost in those hours
When I made rhymes, missing you,
As I smile, pretending there is an island which has eternal flowers.

I will decide on this hour—no other hour but this.
That hour? When I called out your name
In urgency? I remember that hour. The shame.
I want this hour—the holy hour when I hardly look at you and kiss.

I was hurt by that urgent hour. I called you.
I called you again. You didn’t respond.
I ran the entire length of the pond.
Thank God hours like that are few!

The hour I choose will be holy, and filled with treats,
Like Christmas when I was young.
The trembling holy days when the holy songs were sung
And life lived, and we read Keats.

The bride climbs the hill.
All her friends are crying, as if it were a sacrifice.
Do not weep, friends! We’ll kiss you and kill
Your fear. And serve you cold drinks with clinking ice.

Within this hour, I shall be with the bride
Who in the outdoor lamplight wakes
Calmly, as if she were death life gently shakes
And she were curious to come inside.

This will be the hour, gleaming,
Defying eternity and its length!
The delicacy of the hour its strength—
A dreamy hour, before the delicate sleeper lies dreaming.

I decide—after hours of thought—my hour will be the one
When night is blue along the long earth, but not yet all.
We don’t need to know how the motion of the sun—
Look! Has made the large and gold look so sad and small.

And now the bride comes down in the shadowy blue
And everyone is weeping, and we
Do not believe—who can believe anyone is true?
In this hour I am marrying eternity.

THE MORE I DESIRED TO SEE YOU

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Desiring to articulate what I saw

I used words. But words don’t see.

What I saw saw nothing.

My love for you betrays

Not only nights, in which I try to see

And don’t, and don’t sleep, but all my days

Which, to be good days, need rest.

To know is not free.

The worst happened when I loved you the best.

This is why my friends are amazed and cannot understand:

I don’t speak to you or look at you though I love you and you are close at hand.

 

WHAT IS A BAD POEM?

 

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A good poem needs 2 things.

Most have the first: an anecdote, theme, or story which supports the poem.

The second is why 99% of poems fail.

It is because the anecdote, the reason for the poem, is a thousand times better than the poem.

One attempt to fix this is to write a poem which is so brief, the anecdote is the poem.

The other is to make the poem so lengthy that it forgets, for many lines, its theme. Both of these attempts fail.

99% of poetry stinks.

One might counter this with a list of exemplary qualities which every poem requires to be successful. But the problem with this is that such lists can go on forever. We believe the simple “anecdote” warning above beats every list in the world.

And further, any lengthy list of what makes a poem good can actually do harm, as striving to satisfy many elements of expression may destroy the poem’s unity. Wit lessens options; it doesn’t expand them.

Pope’s phrase is exemplary: ” what oft’ was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” A poem needs but 2 things ever: ‘what people are thinking’ and the ‘better expression of it.’ The ‘better’ is the rub. And ‘what people are actually thinking’ helps, too.

Pope, the Augustan Wit, belongs to an era lost to our day—flying beyond the Romantics and the Moderns, so that Pope is hardly considered a poet at all to those who long ago bought into aesthetic statements such as the “Red Wheel Barrow.”

The fetish of the romantically tinged image of the early Modernists struck a blow against philosophical wit—to no effect, really.

Wit looking at objects is all poetry is, and has ever been.

The Romantics—who the Moderns and Post-Moderns have never quite escaped—countered the Augustan Wits with heart.

But as we examine the Romantics from our modern future, we see the Romantics were Wits, too.  Read Byron.

Today, most poetry has neither wit nor heart: no, that may not be quite true.  It often has heart, but no wit.  Or wit, but no heart.  The good poem tends to have both: a good theme sweetly expressed. But modern poetry has mostly left this combination behind, in the name of (what to call it?) a modernity which considers itself too modern for any broad sense of sweetness, virtue, or virtuosity.

Modernity has replaced the Muse. Today poets write as they are taught: to write against the past, instead of adding to its glories. One criterion exists in the Post-Modern, Creative Writing Program Era: Whatever you do, avoid the Iconic Past. Write in any manner you like, just as long as you don’t sound like Byron!

A good example of how this Modern Stupidity has replaced the Muse is the following poem which every modern loves.

In this poem, the ten year old who rhymes is secret code for Keats, Poe, Byron.

And the schoolteacher (cunningly dismissed, as well) in this poem is nothing more than tradition and poetry itself, replaced by the 20th-century, business model, vanity of the Creative Writing Program—which became a kind of solution during Bunting’s lifetime to the insulting woes described in the poem. Bunting’s clever poem seems to be a defense of poetry. It’s not. It’s a defense of modern poetry. And there’s a very important difference.

~

What the Chairman Told Tom by Basil Bunting (1900-1985)

Poetry? It’s a hobby.
I run model trains.
Mr. Shaw there breeds pigeons.

It’s not work. You don’t sweat.
Nobody pays for it.
You could advertise soap.

Art, that’s opera; or repertory—
The Desert Song.
Nancy was in the chorus.

But to ask for twelve pounds a week—
married, aren’t you?—
you’ve got a nerve.

How could I look a bus conductor
in the face
if I paid you twelve pounds?

Who says it’s poetry, anyhow?
My ten year old
can do it and rhyme.

I get three thousand and expenses,
a car, vouchers,
but I’m an accountant.

They do what I tell them,
my company.
What do you do?

Nasty little words, nasty long words,
it’s unhealthy.
I want to wash when I meet a poet.

They’re Reds, addicts,
all delinquents.
What you write is rot.

Mr. Hines says so, and he’s a schoolteacher,
he ought to know.
Go and find work.

~

We almost feel sorry for Tom, the sorry-ass modern poet who writes “rot,” but still wishes his “rot” to earn him a living. Is the speaker of the poem attractive? Not exactly, though his honest approach is the entire merit of the poem—take this away, and there’s no poem. Now, it is true: wrestling with how to make a poem better than “writing advertisements” or more significant than “a hobby” are valid questions, but Bunting’s poem isn’t interested in that; it only wants us to assume the poet is honorable—simply in the face of the “unkind” chairman’s remarks. Unfortunately, the “rot” the chairman mentions, as everyone who attempts to read most poetry knows, despite the poem’s self-pity, is depressingly real.

Bunting’s poem has heart—but no wit.

Bunting’s poem is good, raw anecdote—with a dubious agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE MIND BEHIND THE MIND

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I went into a situation totally blind,
Teaching my love a lesson with documents official,
Saddening myself, as I thought I was unkind,
But later found elation in wisdom of mind behind the mind.

She was secretive—he told her to be, but they were soon to find
True love doesn’t like secrets
And their apparent kindness was soon to unwind,
Thinking they were aware, but both were unaware—of the mind behind the mind.

You cannot rob a person who is intent on love, the mind
Cannot be deceived, even if the eyes are fooled.
Love only wants desire, not to bind—
So I opened doors and found the flowering in the mind behind the mind.

I wrote a poem unconsciously, but said
Exactly what I thought; you read
What I wrote, you were amazed
How I put it. Now she is sultry and dazed.

She has learned the lesson. Look, her mind
Is gradually opening and loosening, the official
Life used against her was the life that was unkind.
She wasn’t seeing, but now she is seeing the mind behind the mind.

I thought I was wrong—but no;
I knew exactly what to do and where to go.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew
What was going on and who was really unkind.
I found out who I am in the mind behind the mind.

 

 

 

 

THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS BY ROY ROGERS

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Don’t you remember how we tried to read that book?

How exactly do you think two nerds are expected to look?

You are actually beautiful, and you don’t like to read,

But want your nerdy lover—a true nerd!—to fulfill that need.

Look at your beautiful face, hovering above the page—

Uncomprehending! in a quizzical, lip-biting, rage.

Look at me, insouciant, unattractive, sly,

Understanding even more than the author as the pages fly by.

Look at you, your perfect nose, your perfect posture, your uncanny, beautiful chin,

Breasts hidden by shallow breathing, and thoughts—God where have they been?

I don’t care anymore; you’re a creature of sentiment and feeling alone.

Eye glasses make you look even more beautiful. And look, now you’re looking at your phone…

 

 

 

THE ONE YOU LOVE IS ALWAYS THE ONE WHO LOVES YOU

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The one you love is always the one who loves you.

Your thinking is always—someone else thinking inside of you.

And that’s what love is. Love is desire. Desire is, and already is, what you do.

Did I just do that? did I just think that? you say.

Yes you did. And what you did a long time ago is what you are and exactly who you are today.

Things change outside, but you don’t change. You are

Not the light that flickers. The flickering light is not the star.

The flickering lights are not what you love, or will ever know.

That’s right. Look.  The curving sunlight is moving.  Into the shoot you go.

You are the universe trying to get into something very small.

Here comes your lover. The uncanny face. And you are not exactly sure—are you?—exactly how tall.

 

 

TELLING YOU I LOVE YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU

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Telling you I love you made me love you.

That’s what poetry can do.

It doesn’t matter if you or I ever meant this to be true.

Love has a sister: desire. And desire looks for a way.

But desire, being desire, never knows what to do.

Desire rises from her nightly bed and stands speechless before the day.

Love, to really love, needs to hear what the poets say.

A poet comes from the east, wearing purple and yellow and red,

And the poetry is alive, even when the poet is dead!

Look where Emily Dickinson down to the darkness is led.

Now law says there will be a husband and he will come to your bed

And if he does not please you, you may leave him, is what the law finally said.

Now this is what love says to you when she reaches for you in bed:

When you have a moment, will you remind me what the poem you composed for me said?

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2017 SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100

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1 Bob Dylan. Nobel Prize in Literature.

2 Ron Padgett. Hired to write three poems for the current film Paterson starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

3 Peter Balakian. Ozone Journal, about the Armenian genocide, won 2016 Pulitzer in Poetry.

4 Sherman Alexie. BAP 2015 ‘yellow-face controversy’ editor’s memoir drops this June.

5 Eileen Myles. Both her Selected Poems & Inferno: A Poet’s Novel making MSM lists.

6 Claudia Rankine. Citizen: important, iconic, don’t ask if it’s good poetry.

7 Anne Carson. The Canadian’s two latest books: Decreation & Autobiography of Red.

8 Paige Lewis. Her poem “The River Reflects Nothing” best poem published in 2016.

9 William Logan. In an age of poet-minnows he’s the shark-critic.

10 Ben Mazer. “In the alps I read the shipping notice/pertaining to the almond and the lotus”

11 Billy Collins. The poet who best elicits a tiny, sheepish grin.

12 John Ashbery. There is music beneath the best of what this New York School survivor does.

13 Joie Bose. Leads the Bolly-Verse Movement out of Kolkata, India.

14 Mary Oliver. Her latest book, Felicity, is remarkably strong.

15 Daipayan Nair.  “I am a poet./I kill eyes.”

16 Nikky Finny. Her book making MSM notices is Head Off & Split.

17 Sushmita Gupta. [Hers the featured painting] “Oh lovely beam/of moon, will you, too/deny me/soft light and imagined romance?”

18 A.E. Stallings. Formalism’s current star.

19 W.S. Merwin. Once the house boy of Robert Graves.

20 Mary Angela Douglas. “but God turns down the flaring wick/color by color almost/regretfully.”

21 Sharon Olds. Her Pulitzer winning Stag’s Leap is about her busted marriage.

22 Valerie Macon. Briefly N.Carolina Laureate. Pushed out by the Credentialing Complex.

23 George Bilgere. Imperial is his 2014 book.

24 Stephen Dunn. Norton published his Selected in 2009.

25 Marilyn Chin. Prize winning poet named after Marilyn Monroe, according to her famous poem.

26 Kushal Poddar. “The water/circles the land/and the land/my heaven.”

27 Stephen Burt. Harvard critic’s latest essay “Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump.” What will hold?

28 Joe Green. “Leave us alone. Oh, what can we do?/The wild, wild winds go willie woo woo.”

29 Tony Hoagland. Tangled with Rankine over tennis and lost.

30 Cristina Sánchez López. “I listen to you while the birds erase the earth.”

31 Laura Kasischke. Awkward social situations portrayed by this novelist/poet.

32 CAConrad. His latest work is The Book of Frank.

33 Terrance Hayes. National Book Award in 2010, a MacArthur in 2014

34 Robin Coste Lewis. Political cut-and-paste poetry.

35 Stephen Cole. “And blocked out the accidental grace/That comes with complete surprise.”

36 Martín Espada. Writes about union workers.

37 Merryn Juliette “And my thoughts unmoored/now tumbling/Like sand fleas on the ocean floor”

38 Daniel Borzutzky. The Performance of Being Human won the National Book Award in 2016.

39 Donald Hall. His Selected Poems is out.

40 Diane Seuss. Four-Legged Girl a 2016 Pulitzer finalist.

41 Vijay Seshadri. Graywolf published his 2014 Pulitzer winner.

42 Sawako Nakayasu. Translator of Complete Poems of Chika Sagawa.

43 Ann Kestner. Her blog since 2011 is Poetry Breakfast.

44 Rita Dove. Brushed off Vendler and Perloff attacks against her 20th century anthology.

45 Marjorie Perloff. A fan of Charles Bernstein and Frank O’hara.

46 Paul Muldoon. Moy Sand and Gravel won Pulitzer in 2003.

47 Frank Bidart. Winner of the Bollingen. Three time Pulitzer finalist.

48 Frederick Seidel. Compared “Donald darling” Trump to “cow-eyed Hera” in London Review.

49 Alice Notley. The Gertrude Stein of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

50 Jorie Graham. She writes of the earth.

51 Maggie Smith. “Good Bones.” Is the false—“for every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird”— poetry?

52 Adrian Matejka. His book The Big Smoke is about the boxer Jack Johnson.

53 Elizabeh Alexander. African American Studies professor at Yale. Read at Obama’s first inauguration.

54 Derek Walcott. Convinced Elizabeth Alexander she was a poet as her mentor at Boston University.

55 Richard Blanco. Read his poem, “One Today,” at Obama’s second inauguration.

56 Louise Glück. A leading serious poet.

57 Kim Addonizio. Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life came out in 2016.

58 Kay Ryan. An Emily Dickinson who gets out, and laughs a little.

59 Lyn Hejinian. An elliptical poet’s elliptical poet.

60 Vanessa Place. Does she still tweet about Gone With The Wind?

61 Susan Howe. Born in Boston. Called Postmodern.

62 Marie Howe. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time is her latest book.

63 Glynn Maxwell. British poetry influencing Americans? Not since the Program Era took over.

64 Robert Pinsky. Uses slant rhyme in his translation of Dante’s terza rima in the Inferno.

65 David Lehman. His Best American Poetry (BAP) since 1988, chugs on.

66 Dan Sociu. Romanian poet of the Miserabilism school.

67 Chumki Sharma. The great Instagram poet.

68 Matthew Zapruder. Has landed at the N.Y. Times with a poetry column.

69 Christopher Ricks. British critic at Boston University. Keeping T.S. Eliot alive.

70 Richard Howard. Pinnacle of eclectic, Francophile, non-controversial, refinement.

71 Dana Gioia. Poet, essayist.  Was Chairman of NEA 2003—2009.

72 Alfred Corn. The poet published a novel in 2014 called Miranda’s Book.

73 Jim Haba. Noticed by Bill Moyers. Founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

74 Hessamedin Sheikhi. Young Iranian poet translated by Shohreh (Sherry) Laici

75 Pablo Larrain. Directed 2016 film Neruda.

76 Helen Vendler. Wallace Stevens champion. Helped Jorie Graham.

77 Kenneth Goldsmith. Fame for poetry is impossible.

78 Cate Marvin. Oracle was published by Norton in 2015.

79 Alan Cordle. Still the most important non-poet in poetry.

80 Ron Silliman. Runs a well-known poetry blog. A Bernie man.

81 Natalie Diaz.  Her first poetry collection is When My Brother Was An Aztec.

82 D.A. Powell. Lives in San Francisco. His latest book is Repast.

83 Edward Hirsch. Guest-edited BAP 2016.

84 Dorianne Laux. Will always be remembered for “The Shipfitter’s Wife.”

85 Juan Felipe Herrera. Current Poet Laureate of the United States.

86 Patricia Lockwood. Her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in 2013 thanks to Twitter followers.

87 Kanye West. Because we all know crazy is best.

88 Charles Bernstein. Hates “official verse culture” and PWCs. (Publications with wide circulation.)

89 Don Share. Editor of Poetry.

90 Gail Mazur. Forbidden City is her seventh and latest book.

91 Harold Bloom. Since Emerson, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot are dead, he keeps the flame of Edgar Allan Poe hatred alive.

92 Alan Shapiro.  Life Pig is his latest collection.

93 Dan Chiasson. Reviews poetry for The New Yorker.

94 Robert Hass. “You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.”

95 Maurice Manning.  One Man’s Dark is a “gorgeous collection” according to the Washington Post.

96 Brian Brodeur. Runs a terrific blog: How A Poem Happens, of contemporary poets.

97 Donald Trump. Tweets-in-a-shit-storm keeping the self-publishing tradition alive.

98 Ben Lerner. Wrote the essay “The Hatred of Poetry.”

99 Vidyan Ravinthiran. Editor at Prac Crit.

100 Derrick Michael Hudson. There’s no fame in poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN YOU, A STRANGER

Image result for ruins in painting

When you, a stranger, came on too strong,

I immediately thought there was something wrong.

But how much beauty fails to speak

Because we are too wise and weak?

How much love by caution killed?

A colosseum empty, when it should be filled?

A Shelley dead, because he was too bold?

Love sitting around until it’s old?

The landscape is ruined with ruins wild.

I should have kissed. But smiled.

 

THIS COUNTRY HAS MILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL WOMEN

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This country has millions of beautiful women

And all of them are sad.

In my dreams, I walk through shadows of mango trees

Covering the boulevard, and the harmonious music

Gradually fades away.

Are they resting, hurrying, thinking

Or looking in their handbag for keys, or phone?

This country has trillions of automatic actions

Per second and everyone is alone.

The lead singer, in the light, has drummers and violins

To facilitate the final grand crescendo.

I duck into the forest of street lamps,

Thinking of one of the last moments with her in the café

And wonder how many signs have been selected to tell me where to go.

Don’t miss your opportunity, she tells me,

Giving me confident advice and hope—in the misery

I can feel from here. There’s a Japanese company

In your country and if you work hard and she decides she will never leave,

Marriage can be the answer, and you will only occasionally grieve.

Bombs will solve the need for reforms, and TV

Reruns can keep the construction crews comforted, late at night,

As the grin in the face of laugh tracks will make them feel everything is alright.

Laughter. That will do it. A little seafood and wine.

A perfect sauce. The Nibelungen. T.S. Eliot singing softly beside the Rhine.

 

 

 

YOU TOOK THE OTHER STAIRS

Image result for eurydice descending to hades in renaissance painting

You went down the other stairs

Instead of the usual way, to avoid me—so you could show

How much you hate me. I saw you. I know.

A friend told me the future is unpredictable. And I said no.

I’ve seen the future. The future is the past.

Things around us change, but we don’t. The soul does not change.

I saw you take the other stairs. You are still the same.

You haven’t changed. You love to walk away

Without a word and forget everything, and today

There you were, doing it again—no, trying to do it again.

You never had faith in analyzing the past;

You think to walk away from it, wordlessly and fast.

You walked down the other stairs and I saw,

In that awfully simple moment, the essence of your soul.

You would race off like that when you loved me,

Too enraged, in your sudden mood change, to say goodbye

—And I ran after you, sometimes, in tears.

 

The blessed can forget the past, but you cannot.

The happy can glide away from the past without trying.

Goodbye, and hello, to the sun. Goodbye, and hello, to the evening sky.

Who recalls the shape of the evening clouds? Or the way

The falling music sounds in the evening? Now tomorrow comes,

And the truly glad escape, without looking back, their sad and fated past.

You recall how the music sounds in the dying evenings, it sounds

In the sadness of your soul, it sounds in the stairs of your soul

Even though you close and lock the doors.

You, who make a great show of leaving the past behind,

Cannot. It lives. And I cannot help you. It still lives in your mind.

 

The prophecy I spoke to my friend is that we

Are always the same—the future’s peaceful, sweet solemnity

Stretching out to the blessed, is the same peace that I

Find now—in reflection, study and empathy

Of the past I love. But you hate the past

And because of this you suffer now—as you walk with purpose,

Down the other stairs…there you go!

Proud, silent, angry, hateful, steadily and fast

As you did—lovely creature whom I loved!—in the past.

 

 

 

 

THE RIVER REFLECTS NOTHING. THE POEM IS THE POET

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Many people are terrified of the question “So what do you do?”

Everyone hates superficial judgement.

Is this not the greatest social fear?

And because 99% of our conscious lives are social, isn’t this the greatest fear of all?

To be judged superficially?

Poets hate the question, “So what do you do?” most of all—if they are bad poets.

Because to be a bad poet means precisely this: there’s no hiding from superficial judgment.

Here’s the first rule of good writing: it hides.

There’s only two social choices:

1. Superficial judgment.

2. Hiding from superficial judgment.

Nature does not fear superficial judgment: her genius is fully on display. Try and superficially judge me, she says. Here I am, for all to see.

Nature doesn’t hide.

So why do we?

Because we judge each other. Which nature doesn’t do.

The “social” doesn’t involve judgment; it is judgment.

Nature does not judge, nor is it judged—since Nature is, and it is the only thing which, in fact, is.

Poetry is not judged as good or bad.

Poetry, as not-Nature, as a social function, is bad and good judgment itself, on display.

The rise of “reality TV” reveals this most acutely: the producers of these shows, which depict simple social activities, whether cooking, music, dating, or wilderness survival, use the judgment/competition model to generate interest.

All humans do is judgmental.

We have no doubt that if a good poetry “reality show” were produced, strongly competitive in nature, it could be as successful as any of the other kinds of reality shows, and would help poetry in general.

Many, of course, would object, saying poetry is pure, and reflective, and has nothing to do with competition, and any judgment attached to poetry comes along afterwards and is apart from the poetry itself. To argue that poetry itself is judgmental is insane.

But this objection is insane. It ignores all that we have previously and rigorously said: Human social activity is judgmental and poetry belongs to human social activity; a person is either superficially judged, or not, and to escape superficial judgment is good and noble and pure, of course, but the escape is immersed in judgment—even if poetry were a harbor of escape in the sea of judgment, it still exists in that sea.

The social judgment aspect exists in the context of how we started the essay: “what do you do?” We are not talking about a single instance of an amateur writing a poem for a beloved to woo the beloved (but even this involves broad judgment: oh how sweet!); we speak of the act of writing poems again and again, as a vocation: a poet as professional calling. “What do you do?

And just as people are wrong that poetry is not a judgmental activity, they are also wrong in their common belief that the poet and the poem exist in separate universes. They do not. I refer to the ubiquitous idea that a morally bad person can write good poetry. No. This is not true. They cannot.

And why is it not true?  Why is it true that poet and poem are intimately related on a moral level?

Because writing poetry, if it is good poetry, and passes the test of being a real social activity, is reflected in what the poet “does,” in the most thoroughly social sense imaginable—as if that question asked at a cocktail party could be really answered in four or five hours. Here’s what I as a poet “really do,” as a person in life, without which there were no poetry produced by me at all.

Journalism is not poetry, and this is why Plato feared the poets, because good poetry hides, and journalism should do the very opposite. If someone asks what a journalist “does,” the answer is simple: observe and report facts—journalist and journalism will both be judged by their accuracy; any attempt to distort this simple formula should immediately raise suspicions.

When poetry acts like good journalism—not hiding, but reporting facts—it’s not good poetry for the simple reason that it is not poetry.

What the good journalist “does” is to observe well—and this involves being “on the ground,” talking to the important participants, etc. A complex, winding path is followed, and the hidden often has to be unearthed. A good journalist will produce good journalism, based on the simple question: “what did you do?”

Poetry is not journalism. However, a good poet “does” the same thing—observes and lives/exists in a winding path—and this is why, just as journalist and journalism are the same, poet and poem are the same.

Left wing critics fall over each other adoring the poetry of right wing poet Ezra Pound, saying the poet and the poetry are two different things. The politics aside—far left and far right are perhaps the same, etc—we mean to demolish this false idea once and for all.

The poet and poetry cannot be separated, in social, judgmental terms.

The poetry exists because of what the poet “does,” not as a poet, but as a person, traveling, observing, loving, hating.

In attempting to define what the poet does, we exclude the “bag of poet’s tools:” rhyme, meter, language, etc as a factor. We reject the notion of a poet/person over here and his or her impersonal technique over there.

This may elicit howls of protest from the formalists—but we are not denying technique (those who read Scarriet can attest to this); we are saying the fruitful use of technique has nothing to do with the availability of said technique, since all poets are more or less acquainted with technique—acquiring skill with technique cannot be separated from what the poet “does” as a human being on the winding path of life.

The record of a life which cannot be judged superficially—that is, poetry—uses poetic technique (rhyme, meter, etc) to keep ordinary judgement at bay. If the technique is not predictable and banal, it will ensure a life presented in a manner profound and original— since it runs parallel to, and supports, the prose meaning.

Nor has this anything to do with the tricky idea that “form is an extension of content,” except very indirectly—the poet (the poet’s life) is far more important to the poetry than “form” or “content,” and this is the common sense, yet radical, point we are making. The poet’s life propels its telling into modes which are emotionally rich—and all poetic technique is merely the material means to heighten emotion, so the poet regards emotion through the lens of technique without having to really focus on technique. He is reaching for the emotion he wants to reproduce, and uses rhyme, for instance, as naturally as if he were speaking a language or playing an instrument he knows how to play.

The really important thing is this: the poet must have a fortunate and unusual life, in which experience is not harsh enough to crush the organs of judgement, but on the other hand, the experience is not so vapid as to never stimulate them.

This criterion alone leaves few individuals who are suited to write excellent poetry.

The moral judgment is always short on information with which to judge, since the situation judged is often layered and complex—precisely since it is life, and not the moral judgment—yet both need one another for civil society and sanity to exist. The moral judgment and the layered private life will always be opposed and never be able to rest side by side in harmony. Moral art is where this oil and water are forced together, and this also makes the great poet rare, since the individual who is both highly judgmental and also a “sinner” in a deeply justified manner—many-layered, sensual, and private—is also rare.

We spoke of hiding: the unusual incidents of a poet’s life—complex, bizarre, lovelorn, passionate, odd, eerily fated and coincidental—must be expressed in a manner which hides the trivial particulars in a unique fog of philosophy—the fog resembling a cold, sustaining fire which comfortably incinerates all that is useless, mundane, haphazard, and boring, allowing the primitive aesthetic (as it lives in nature) to sparkle and gleam, to descend and rise into beautifying shadows, at the poet’s will.

If the poet recount starkly the most bizarre yet universal love affair the world has ever seen in a journalistic memoir, leaving in all the details—this purging will provide a resting place for journalistic sentiment and knowledge—and deprive the world of a wonder by stating it too clearly.

But if, instead, a particularly vivid incident from the poet’s life is hidden in poetry, in which the poetry expresses the hidden elements as hidden (by technique) but manifests to the reader the beauty, both moral and sensual, of the true incident, poetry will result.

At our inquisitive cocktail party, the question “so what do you do?” will not intimidate the poet—if he listens, and really responds, to the question.

We said poetry is not journalism, and yet they are both something people “do,” within, and in response to, nature.

We finish our essay with a poem by Paige Lewis, which we think successful—and note how the poem exists because of a certain winding path of experience and reflection practiced by the poet, almost as if she were a journalist and acute observation were the test of both her, as an actor, and her result (the poem), the two things existing as one—a journalist might even begin a report from the field with the key thematic line of her poem:

“We are only remembered as cruel when what we harm does not die quickly,”

but this morally ambiguous advice surely needs to “hide” in poetry to live; otherwise a journalist uttering this “truth” could find themselves labeled a murderer with a handy excuse.

Another thing to note is that without Andy being observed, we can easily imply the poem wouldn’t exist; that Andy is responsible for the poem, and that’s what a poet “does;” they let things in, just as the journalist does, who counts themselves lucky by what they happen to see: a boy who eats tadpoles!

You need to be on a winding path to see this, whether journalist or poet.  You notice things: morally and clearly if you are a good journalist, amorally and cloudily if you are a good poet.

The poem below can be summed up:

Cruelty is quick, for what is caught is eaten. Kindness is hungry—and slow.

We want our journalists to be quick.

We want our poets to be slow.

And now we’ll close with the poem:

~

The River Reflects Nothing

This morning I watched a neighborhood

boy throw his model plane into the air

with his right hand and shoot it down

with the garden hose in his left. My

hands have never been that quick. When

my mother lived by the river. I lived

by the river. I knelt over it with legs red

and pebble-dented. Reaching in, I pulled

back empty fists and it always seemed

like a trick, those tadpoles all green-glinting

and shadows, but Andy could catch them,

could make the squirming real in his

palm before he swallowed each whole.

We are only remembered as cruel when

what we harm does not die quickly. I

don’t know how long it took the tadpoles,

but I know I was trying to say I’m sorry

when I leaned down, pressed my mouth

against his stomach and said, If you’d

just let me catch you, I’d let you go.

~

(“The River Reflects Nothing” by Paige Lewis, published in Ninth Letter)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITERATURE EXISTS

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for Robert Ritzenthaler

Literature exists, because reconciliation is sweet

In imagination’s heaven—even as the hellish school boy squirms in his seat.

Literature exists, and we know literature well:

The boring parts of heaven, the exciting parts of hell.

Literature exists, resting on shelves everywhere,

Literature dreams for you, even if you don’t care.

You know why literature is covered in school and hidden:

It’s never just life. It’s always life that is forbidden.

Literature is always about the sorrow that never gets said.

But literature becomes a critic being really boring, instead.

Literature should be this poem and don’t worry,

I will tell you I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.

Literature is putting together the boy and his dad

Who never got together—isn’t that sad?

Literature is that novel which had some tragic deaths at the end

We didn’t finish. The one who gave it to me I swear was only a friend.

Literature is the foreshadowing, the metaphor, the clue

Which we don’t see. Or, maybe I did see it. Is that okay with you?

 

 

 

THE AGE OF THE SNOWFLAKE

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Happy individuals know 1. how to get mad.

And then 2. turn the anger off, calm down, and move on.

Unhappy people either 1. never get mad: never muster enough energy to overcome a difficulty, make known a really necessary complaint, assert themselves, break through to the next level

Or, 2. they are constantly mad, and are never really calm, and can never move on.

This can be confusing for the rest of us.

We might temporarily confuse the anger of the constantly angry person with the short-lived, purposeful, anger of the happy individual.

We might not understand the calm of the happy person, confusing it with the indifference and passivity of the unhappy person.

We might completely misread the sudden rare, directed anger of the happy individual, thinking it reflects unreliability, inconsistency, and lack of control. “Weren’t you happy a minute ago?”

We might even admire the constant anger of the unhappy person for its consistency.

We might confuse the blank of the unhappy person for the calm of the happy person.

“Snowflake” is a ubiquitous term today, one I do not use, because I think it is a misnomer, and it is the subject of this essay only because I wish to attempt an analysis along these lines.

A “snowflake” refers pejoratively to the hyper-sensitive person, often on a college campus, who cannot handle information, historical or political, which tramples on delicate feelings and beliefs—concerning those who are strongly and innocently disadvantaged in fundamental ways.

But to care about others, even in a hyper-sensitive manner, is a good thing. Good or bad in social relations turn on delicate feelings and this is to be human and social. Period.

I don’t care a fig about this notion of the “snowflake” who can’t handle this or that. Sensitive and considerate is always good.

I do care, however, about the happy and the unhappy person—the constantly dull, or the constantly angry person is not happy—and is rarely a good thinker. This has nothing to do with being a snowflake, and more with being ignorant, and unhappy.

The cross-dressing, Harvard literary critic, the heir to Helen Vendler, Stephen Burt, begins his recent essay, “Writing About Yeats in the Age of Trump” sounding exactly what everyone might think a “snowflake” sounds like:

“Like many of you, I have spent the days since the election in a combination of frantic distraction; intermittent, flailing activism; attempts to focus on my private and professional life; and fear. The more I read from experts in relevant fields, the more I envision the next four, or eight, or ten years not so much as a Republican administration—enacting policies that will hurt immigrants, people of color, and the poor—but rather as a kleptocratic, potentially authoritarian, generation-long takeover, one that could extend outward and downward from Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue into the federal judiciary, the civil service, and the national security state.

“I have not lost my interest, nor my belief, in the powers of poetry. But my goals for my own poetry, and for the ways I write about poetry, are not what they were before November 8. I used to believe, if not in Walt Whitman’s late-1850s optimism, then in the chastened patriotism, the qualified trust in elections and popular culture, that he found even in the Gilded Age.  I have opposed critics who use, as unconsidered, generic praise, the word ‘revolution,’ on the grounds that few good things are harder to break than to fix. I have argued—and I still believe—that our ways of reading and our ways of hearing poetry, like our ways of eating and our ways of understanding kindness and violence, have roots older than we are, older than the twentieth century, even though they have changed, and will change. And I have aligned my own poetry, most of the time, with incrementalism, with a way of reading that (like W.H. Auden’s, like Elizabeth Bishop’s) pays some homage to the deep past.

“I also wanted my poetry to champion the femme, the elaborate, the playful, the serifed, the feathered, the self-consciously involute, the magenta and the chartreuse, even the ornamental: ruffles, dessert. I wanted that poetry, and other contemporary poetry too, to take pleasure in small things, and to push back against a patriarchal, instrumental, coarse, results-first, adult-driven, queer- and transphobic capitalism. I called those goals for poetry ‘nearly Baroque,’ or rococo, and I found its closest modern precedent in Marianne Moore.

“Our president-elect appears to enjoy the rococo, too, but it is the wrong kind of rococo: not delicate craftsmanship as a blow to misogyny, but the gilding of every conceivable surface, the flaunting of a wealth he has used to hurt others, as a boastful public spectacle. Trump represents the end of liberalism, the end of self-restraint and public kindness delivered through flawed, long-lived institutions, at least on a national scale. The social contract of Paul Wellstone and Richard Rorty, of A. Phillip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt, and for that matter of Barack Obama, seems all torn up.”

If this isn’t “snowflake,” what is? One of the two traditional parties wins the presidential election in the traditional manner, and Burt feels “fear.”  Burt makes a great, breathless, elaborate, post-election, point about “poetry” as it applies to him—Burt. Totally in earnest, he describe his poetry’s “ruffles” as a blow against “patriarchal capitalism.”

But this only points up what we are trying to say about the “snowflake” label. It’s meaningless. This quotation from Burt is excessive rhetoric bursting forth from a highly successful critic. This is not “snowflake” trepidation. Burt is using ruthless, cunning, rhetoric in highly educated, full attack, mode. Snowflake? This totally kicks ass—in a completely “take-no-prisoners” manner.

Burt feels “fear?” Reading Burt’s reaction to the election, I’m genuinely afraid of Burt.

He’s pushing “snowflake” buttons, but he himself is clearly no “snowflake; “it doesn’t matter how much he claims to prefer “magenta” and “chartreuse.”

Burt’s argument is utterly disconnected and unhinged, in a manner frighteningly black-and-white and uncompromising. “Snowflake” has nothing to do with it.

In speaking of Trump, Burt tosses reason and perspective to the wind. Last time I checked, every law and institution of the United States remains fully intact, going back to the founding of this country in the 18th century, and yet Burt speaks as if Eleanor Roosevelt, Richard Rorty, and Barack Obama just a short time ago made this country.

The lack of historical understanding is downright scary: “Whitman’s late 1850s optimism?” I’m not sure why Whitman is mentioned—the American Civil War began in 1861, so “optimism” seems a strange thing to celebrate here—as if “optimism” were the way to describe the world of November 7, 2016—as brought to us by president Obama and secretary state Clinton.

Burt is not being a “snowflake” at all.

He strikes me as someone who is in pain. And angry.

And blind.

And playing with matches.

I would describe him as angry, and unable to let that anger go.

If Burt is a “snowflake,” then I’m a “snowflake.”

I would tell him, accept this hug from another snowflake. Please, go back and read your history, and try to let go of your anger. O isn’t life complicated? You are making me afraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SENSITIVE

Image result for proust

The young Proust

I was a sensitive child. Shy. Scared of everything. I was sexually assaulted in an elevator by an old guy when I was in the third grade, and I was so innocent I didn’t understand what actually had occurred and quickly forgot about it. I was routinely bullied. I loved imaginative literature, the music on my father’s phonograph: classical music, folk music of tragic stories and laments. Haiku in sixth grade set me on fire, and a year later, I fell in love with the sad story of Keats, the poet who died young.  But gradually I became more able to defend myself, to fight back, to laugh with friends, to fight my way up the pecking order, between feared bully at the top and bullied at the bottom, friends with both, as I became more well-rounded and acquainted with outdoor games—athletics became something I enjoyed.

I didn’t have asthma, or any health disadvantage. I was just sensitive. In high school, and even in my first year or two at college, I was extremely shy. Is acne a health problem?

When we think of writers, we usually think of the blind, the injured, the asthmatic, the wounded, the reclusive, the unfit to work or play—not the merely sensitive.

We don’t think of a writer as someone who’s good at football.

But what about someone who is sensitive and loves sports?

It’s not really on the modern radar.

Byron writing verses and swimming the Hellespont is a Romantic trope.

Hemingway was a physical guy, but he wrote unadorned prose fiction, not poetry.  Of course.

And if a writer is athletic, we accept they will soon destroy that with drugs and alcohol. Naturally.

As I slowly—in my case, very slowly—developed into maturity, I prided myself on being well-rounded, a good athlete, as well as a good poet. The balance, I thought, was a good thing.  My sensitivity was great, but was never (I thought) an end in itself—never an excuse to feel sorry for myself. If I sinned, it was in the opposite direction—I nursed a secret pride that I was good—a good poet, a good person, and a little bit better than others. And since I identified more with the great (the great dead writers who inspired my love of learning and art) than with the damned, I became, as I grew, into that inclination which is cursed in so many intellectual circles, but thrives in hidden ways, nonetheless: I became a conservative (horrors!). I loved Shakespeare because he was Shakespeare. Gossip about Shakespeare? I wasn’t interested. Not that biography did not interest me. I read about my favorites. But I knew when something was impossible to know.

The same wisdom which currently says gender doesn’t exist except as a social construct, also say it is written in stone whether one prefers to cuddle in bed with a slender, attractive man or a slender attractive woman. Sexuality has never been so fluid on the one hand, and rigidly hyper-sensitive, on the other, as it is today. And the paradox makes sense to me, when I think about it: the more fluid, the more rigid. Sure, why not? The paradox, after all, is the atom of the universe.

Even though I’m a dully heterosexual dude, I’m more sensitive than anyone I know. Probably because I’m a romantic.

We usually think of excessive sensitivity as the path, if not to genius, then at least to beautiful aesthetic accomplishment, or at the very least, romantic love.

I hope the reader will pardon me as I indulge in using myself as the important example—the social science of self-study is often the best—everything, without secrets, is right there.

I’m sure my sensitivity was the basis of my becoming a poet.

Today, the sensitive poet no longer exists.

Why is it different now?

Because politics has replaced sensitivity.

Oppression creates victims—and sensitivity becomes the default setting of the political victim, or the ‘identity politics’ victim.  The sensitivity is turned into means for a political end.

Proust, ambiguous and civil, gets a political agenda.

Wilde, aesthete, grinds at the Marxist wheel.

I’m not here to question the validity of the politics.  That’s not the point.  I’m looking at something which I think is more important, even if maddeningly vague.

What happens when all we mean by ‘sensitive,’ whether it be the path, the wound, or the sorrow, no longer leads the writer downward into themselves, but always upward into the dead-certain, political agenda?

For isn’t it downward, into the imaginative valley, after long study and reflection, from which the great harvest, the great work of literature, emerges?

The sensitive soul, because of today’s ubiquitous political climate, is now “rescued,” steered into self-pity, and subsequently, sooner than later, naturally surrenders to the political cure: a confident ranting pride destroying the very sensitivity which was so important in the first place.

The whole enterprise becomes self-defeating, even as vestiges of sensitivity remain; the poet—truly sensitive because unconsciously sensitive—disappears, and is replaced by the self-aggrandizing organizer, who may have some worth, but is nothing like the soul who writes in beauty, and travels far afield to find the deeper truth.

SHE PAINTS

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She paints, and when she paints

I love her more.

She paints her face so beautifully

That art critics who enter by the back door

Know all at once what painting and poetry is for.

They sadly recognize that when you say

“I love you” it could be on the very day

You leave, because you said it only to make someone glad,

And when the words fled to them, they made you sad.

We think nothing, but only say what we think we ought to say

Until the red shadows come and we vanish in the blue day.

But now she presents herself at the front of the hall,

And even you look at her, and even you will fall

On your knees and worship her. And that is all.

WHAT I DO TO HER BY DOING NOTHING

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What I do to her by doing nothing

Is more than anyone has ever done.

I was a rare flower she held.

Now I am the sun.

I am silent and far away,

No longer kissing her ear

And telling her how lovely she is.

Now she sees me every day

But I no longer move near

And say exactly what I’m thinking.

I am a blank face of simple fire,

No longer allowed to feel, or think, or have desire,

But like my cunning poetry which everybody reads,

I love her with an appetite that forgets it has needs.

She is courted by a distant sky and distant fields

Which love her only by being there. And she yields.

 

TOP TEN THINGS ON YOUR MIND THIS SEASON

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10. Cold. Where’s global warming? Fuck.

9. Dark. According to science, which only I believe in, this promises to get better.

8. Trump. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

7. Romance? Not really in the fucking mood for it. White male invention, anyway.

6. Wining and Dining? No. Can’t afford health insurance, college loan debt. Whining cheaper.

5. Yoga, meditation? No. In those quiet moments  I’ll just think about my goddamn ex. Or Trump.

4. Protest? No. Too dark, too cold, and I’m too depressed. And it will make me think of Trump.

3. Sex? No. In the mood I’m in, it will neither feel good nor end well.

2. TV, film or Internet? Maybe. It might possibly remind me of my ex. Or Trump. Must be selective.

1. Christmas. Oh fucking fuck.

 

 

 

SHE IS MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THAT

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You thought you had it when that song was learned,

The summer, tan, when you first lost your baby fat

And your limbs were lithe and your teeth were pretty but she is more beautiful than that.

You thought you had it when you married young

And jumped on jobs and connections like a cat

And put your claws in the suburb of pleasure but she is more beautiful than that.

You thought you had it when you went to college and got degrees and turned

Around one day and saw the shoes on the welcome mat

And he spoke confidently and loved you bravely but she is more beautiful than that.

You had an unhappy marriage even as the marriage song was sung.

The reasons you weren’t loved? Too much honor. Love sometimes looks like a rat.

Love is empathy—which is often an enemy of love. But she is more beautiful than that.

She is shy, and paints, and writes poems, and no tongue

But yours crosses into the tranquil valley with her this late.

She is more beautiful if the poem says what the poet sees.

Her smile? Her face? Her elegance? They collect their fees.

But her modesty doesn’t see what you see. She expects her fate.

 

 

THE REST I NEED

Image result for a fever in painting

You! I want! and want, in hot desire. In lust. And foul greed.

You make me mad with desire. The rest I need.

The rest are food and shelter. Cool water and advice.

The rest are sanity. The rest are extremely nice.

You make my forehead burn. They apply the ice.

The rest notice if there’s a spot on my tie.

You are a tall, crumbling cliff, a step away from the sky.

The rest make me bashful. You make me cry.

The rest make me work, and dull work is what I need

To forget instantaneous pleasure, you, the deed.

Dull work is a guard against the poem,

Against lust. Yes, against you, woman.

My thoughts are in the mines, worked, kept, never to be freed.

I always think of you. You are my goal. My death. You are the rest I need.

 

I SHOULD HAVE LET THE RAIN FALL

Image result for fire against the rain in painting

I know fire’s pain.

But I lit a fire against the rain.

Lonely, I desired fire

To light the darkness of my desire.

Her eyes were a flame.

Her skin, dark—but bright, all the same.

I should have let the unpleasantness remain

Where it was. Fire’s pain,

Lights up the rain,

The steady rain that causes sleep.

But fire, like love, is a pain that’s deep.

I knew fire was pain,

But I lit a fire against the rain.

I lost her. I lost all.

I should have let the rain fall.

 

 

 

 

 

LOVERS HYPNOTIZE THEMSELVES

It wasn’t you, it was the breathing of slumber while awake.

It was the quiet poetry of the breathing lake.

It was “I love you,” shyly spoken

Which made the previous world’s broken love a thing finally broken.

Time hurried to take the place of time.

You took me in my weakness with a mere rhyme.

It was a warmth we consciously enjoyed—

A kindness inside the words employed.

It was a deep breathing that gave us pleasure,

Thought to be love, due to the slower measure

Of breath, and each rising and falling breath

Became slow, and almost resembled death.

We gave birth to love; our love, a new born baby

We as parents, looked upon, knowing that maybe

Love would be love. To be love, love must grow.

Love’s growth requires kind words to make breathing slow.

Writing, the mystery of love!

My eyes shared in the beauty that you are.

My eyes and yours arrived from the same star,

The same stream. Our hearts keep

The same insouciant beat.

They miss together one, and then,

Beat fast, faster again,

And again, fall twinkling down in tune,

With the falling leaves falling about the moon.

Leaves of soft sorrow, leaves of grief,

Leaves in which we hide

Inside the same sorrow, side by side.

Now deep, and slow the breath.

I never knew that love was death!

My fingers shyly entwined in yours,

Holding moments, begging to rhyme,

Begging to run in leaves of time,

And there I lived, beyond,

Reality of time and space,

Here, my warm embrace,

Here my greatest solace,

Death of pride and yesterday

You, oh, you, today.

Love requires a wedding of red paint,

A lengthy ritual, a ceremony to make sadness faint,

As a beautiful lampshade covers a white light,

The passion, warm, but too much for our sight.

And so we made these words our own,

And put love on a commoner’s throne,

We, who needed love far more—

For we had never loved before.

 

 

 

 

THE RELIGION OF FRIDAY

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If we are alive at five

We practice the religion of Friday.

We go to work and do it with religious observation.

We are more religious than we know.

In the elevator and in the cubicle we practice our religion

With our house plants and our hellos.

We have made it to Wednesday and know

Thursday could go fast or could go slow,

But it will bring hope, and if the meetings go well

We might go to lunch and have something languorous to tell

Our coworkers, who live here and there.

The commute and the weekend are holy

And the vacation is holier still,

But the religion of Friday knows this Friday

A god will sit on our window sill.

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