RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition who publishes zines & physical books & electronic books & music & photography & digital art & just generally whatever feels necessary to survive this deluded earth thru Rojonekku Word Fighting Arts survival systems (Version 69, establish 14 Feb 1973). Comments encouraged.

Sunday, January 31

snapping turtle shell lessons
about fault lines and earthquakes
and hydraulic fracturing
lizard overlords possess
black skeletal foundation
for their nefarious deeds

Saturday, January 30

Friday, January 29

manmade life trends to falling
apart; keeping it all peaced
together becomes struggle

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: The Fifth Thing Of It


So a quick recap…
#30: Lucie Brock-Broido (eliminated by Angie Estes)
#29: Terrance Hayes (eliminated by Laura Kasischke)
#28: Marilyn Hacker (eliminated by Alan Shapiro)
#27: Alan Shapiro (eliminated by Nathaniel Mackey)
#26: Ross Gay (eliminated by Marie Ponsot)
#25: Lawrence Raab (eliminated by Juan Felipe Herrera)
#24: Angie Estes (eliminated by Amy Gerstler)
#23: Ada Limon (eliminated by Dennis O’Driscoll)
#22: Rowan Ricardo Phillips (eliminated by Laura Kasischke)
#21: A. Van Jordan (eliminated by Emily Fragos)
#20: Kevin Young (eliminated by Laura Kasischke)
#19: Dennis O’Driscoll (eliminated by Joy Harjo)

Thus far 19 of our 30 poets have been randomly drawn into the squared circle of poetic combat. Last time out, I hated 5 of the 6 poems, and the only one I didn’t hate, our esteemed kvlt scholar hated (and judged against). So I wasn’t exactly hyped the fuck up to jump back into this melee, as a lot of my pre-Royal Poetry Rumble hypotheses about Big Poetry (it sucks, pretentious fuckers, god make it stop, soooo white like whiter than a thousand Oscars) have sort of been affirmed.
And yet at the same time, I can’t be a hater. Culture (in all its fucked up little genres and micro-scenes) is only what we make it, or allow it to be. If poetry has been commandeered by Big Poetry so that once you are no longer an emotional teenager, there is no step up in poetry other than suddenly being an MFA fucker with Very Serious Bio Pic, then that’s our fault – all of us. And fuck it, even if Big Poetry does skew towards pretentious suckitude, so does Big Anything, whether basketball or pro wrestling or ginger ale or anything. But you can still find the shining moments where somehow a thing trapped by the Big Industry that rules it has managed to maintain a little shine of actual soul. It’ll lose it eventually, but whatever. LET’S DO THIS!

#18: Juan Felipe Herrera (represented by “In Search of an Umbrella in NYC”) vs. Marie Ponsot (repped by “Anniversary”)

It only makes sense after complaining about poetry but then not complaining and accepting it that the first name drawn to return to our imaginary poetry ring is the current Grand Poetic Laureate of these United States of Exceptional Shit – Juan Felipe Herrera. He has already beaten a person in this thing, and perhaps many people in real life, I do not know. He is matched against Marie Ponsot, who also has beaten a person in this thing already.
Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem is about an umbrella, according to the title, and he is very much like “fuck grammar” which in my opinion is an important and necessary philosophy to make poesy a clear difference from prose. (Prose seeds grow fiction trees, and fiction tends to be what we think of as “literature” but novels are way younger than poetry, and actually a lot of things, and also I find Big Novel a far larger corrupt racket and bigger waste of time than Big Poetry, but perhaps I am paranoid about everything and destined for psychic doom.) Herrera in fact abandons convention so seriously hard that I had to go back to the source of my copy of this poem to make sure I hadn’t fucked up in my cutting and pasting of context. And whoa, it looks as if Juan Felipe Herrera the current Grand Poetic Laureate of these United States of All That Shit shares my distrust (at least a little) of poetry the industry (at least at that point in his life), because he says:

…i was 
in a rush en route to big time 
poetry Biz duded up ironed shirt

And of course it’s not about an umbrella but about a friend or perhaps lover having a stroke, so it gets pretty serious, but the way he does it is not too godawful pretentious. I mean, nobody’s gonna read this poem to their 9th grade English class (or maybe they will actually) and it’s nothing that makes you want to scream FUCK YES POETRY IS NOT ALL BAD but it’s not all bad, and I can tolerate to the point of enjoying it politely, and that is not a place I found myself with that last batch of poems from the other day.
And then Marie Ponsot does that other thing is important about poetry (in my opinion) and what which makes it different from the other language arts – rhythm of words, because I will be honest, I have no fucking clue what she’s blabbering about and I have read this poem two-and-a-half times now. But I enjoy the fuck out of the way it sounds. It has a rhythm, to the point I was like, “does this rhyme?” a couple times, and it doesn’t, but also does. That’s sort of how rhythm works – it sneakily feels orderly and planned but in a way that’s kinda fucked up and chaotic. I am thankful I don’t have to decide a winner, because I am easing into today’s ensemble of poetry with positivity in my heart (like Kanye! – but no ass fingers, at least not until the lights are out and the tea candles lit). So let’s see what our esteemed but untenured scholar has to say.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "In Search of an Umbrella in NYC" speaks to the universal fear of having a legitimate medical emergency in public only for people to think you are drunk and then you are like "are you fvkkn serious do you think I would *ever* break edge" and in time they come to believe you but by then it's too late and you are terribly dead. "Anniversary" is fine but makes the mistake of reminding me of a better poem that Philip Larkin wrote (Larkin owns all references to aubades now which is hard for all other poets and I am sympathetic to this aspect of their plight). It is unfair perhaps but rather than being enriched by this intertextuality the present poem seems, in the comparison that cannot help but come to mind, of shit.WINNER: "In Search of an Umbrella in NYC"


Yes, and the end result is gone at #18 is Marie Ponsot.

#17: Nathaniel Mackey (repped by “Irritable Mystic”) vs. Alice Notley (repped by “The Descent of Alette ['I Stood Waiting']”)

Nathaniel Mackey (who has beaten one poet already in this ridiculousness) is drawn in again, against Alice Notley this time. This is Alice’s first moment here in our Royal Poetry Rumble, and she is included because she was the 2015 recipient of the Ruth Lilley Poetry Prize, which is a $100,000 award, meaning I bet Alice got some nice rims for her aura green Jaguar. I know I would.
Mackey’s poem is “Irritable Mystic” and that certainly seems like something I would love, but in actual execution it is not so excellent, and in fact very standard poetry trickery with only two or three words per line and a heavy-handed over usage of the return key way too early so that it’s not so much a narrative poem but some sort of language seizure written by a devil who performed the second greatest trick the devil ever did – making himself think he was clever as fuck.
Notley’s poem takes what would be rather normal prose for the most part but chops and screws it with parenthesis galore, and the effect is actually interesting, because it tricks your mind into reading it exactly as if it were literally screwed and chopped. Like, halfway through I was contemplating googling why she did it (and hahaha we think to google shit right away because our brain is fragmented as fuck now, like perhaps even too fragmented to enjoy a simple poem… smdh forever, at myself). I can see no reason that anyone with any sort of halfway right and decent mind, whether civilized or still savage, would not deem Alice Notley she of the new rims on her Jaguar the winner over the devil poem posturing as something mystical she is against.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "Irritable Mystic" lol jesus fvkkn christ "numbed / inarticulate / tongues touching / down on love's endlessly / warmed-over thigh" would just be regular un-good sexrap if it occurred without the line breaks but with them it is transcendentally hideous and so in that way powerful maybe? This poem was a struggle to pay attention to and I am able to pay attention to many of the most objectively boring things anyone could be interested in. "The Descent of Alette [‘I Stood Waiting’]" is strange and compelling and perhaps the logical endpoint for language after the guy started doing the thing he was doing with quotation marks at hipster runoff (r.i.p. carles).WINNER: "The Descent of Alette [‘I Stood Waiting’]"


So out at #17 is Nathaniel Mackey.

#16: Claudia Rankine (repped by “from Citizen, I”) vs. Arthur Sze (repped “Midnight Loon”)

And we have two first-time steppers-into-the-competition for our final match-up today, as Claudia Rankine and Arthur Sze get drawn for this round. Rankine is the well-known (perhaps, if you are familiar with poetry) poet who won the Lannan Award of superheavyweight poetry destruction in 2014. Sze was a finalist for the Pulitzer for poetry last year, but ultimately came up short. WILL HE SUFFER THE SAME ENDING IN OUR MADE UP THING HERE? Let’s see…
Look, I am no fan of social justice poetry, because it often times is kinda wack actually, despite the good and honest intentions behind it. Rankine is stepping into this realm with her poem that actually feels (and reads) like a pair of paragraphs of prose, but it’s not wack at all. In fact, god, I can see the woman at the lunch in the first part, and in fact I wonder if it happened where I work at (University of Virginia) because that sounds too fucking like it. Kinda depressing actually, because I know it’s probably not and there’s a much larger pyramid scam of Elite Universities with Wealthy Benefactors, and their children all go to those same Elite Universities, and honestly how you could not only support affirmative action but maybe even make it economic as well and just don’t let rich fucking kids into Elite Universities and fill it with like the Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s children, and let’s get this shit started (over).
The second paragraph feels like maybe an apology to whatever friend the first paragraph is about, and sure there is a “battle between the ‘historical self’ and the ‘self self.’” I can reveal with no shame that both myself and the esteemed kvlt scholar could both be viewed as college-educated upstanding white men. We also could be viewed as trailer trash (in the rear view mirror at least). That conflict exists probably in more people than any of us realize, and there have been SO! MANY! TIMES! where I am in a social environment and somebody says something horrible and wretched about the poors, and internally I am fire angry, but I calm myself (to maintain social trajectory? I don’t know, let’s not self-analyze here) and then probably make a joke in my head about Navin Johnson from The Jerk, and ultimately I am left feeling awkward and uncomfortable. I’d say big chunks of my social life, a good 3/4 of it, is probably spent feeling awkward and uncomfortable. That’s why I hang out with crows more than people. So though the genre of this type of poem can easily cross over into ugh-ery, Rankine walked the line fine as fuckly.
The Arthur Sze poem, though not as socially important and serious as fuck as Claudian Rankine’s poem, is a solid closed fist punch of poetry, and as a long-time fan of the old Chinese and Japanese hermit kooks of poesy’s yore, mentions of a garden…

as in Japan, raked to resemble ocean waves 
in moonshine, whirlpool eddies, circular ripples –

and though there is a burglary that has happened, there are also whirlpools above in the clouds, and our poetic narrator hears:

…and, though there is no loon, 
a loon calls out over the yard, over the water.

And I am left thinking of Li Po and Tu Fu, which is kinda my favorite shit, to sit around and imagine those two fuckers sending each other poetry by old ass T’ang Dynasty mail.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "Citizen, I" has lost me already when they both order caesar salads on campus which is a pretty bullshit salad and a pretty bullshit place to eat lunch (with the exception of the University of King's College dining hall which is exquisite and a real value but you would never just get a caesar salad there like some *mark*) then it ends up being about the "full force of [one's] Ameri[kkk]an positioning" and yeah I checked out at the caesar salad and don't regret it. In its closing lines "Midnight Loon" posits the possibility of a ghostloon and I would further posit that the ghostloon might not be merely signaling the burglary in some sense but may indeed have been a party to it (ghostloon: an inside job?). Also of note here is the poets choice of "whirlpool eddies" which, were the piece to be translated into Middle High German, would be best rendered "strudel."WINNER: "Midnight Loon"


It is fun that as I sent these poems to the kvlt scholar, I always stripped them of the author’s name, and he stripped himself of his own desire to google the poems (our stupid fragmented brains), so my preconception of “Oh, hey, I know who Claudia Rankine is” goes out the window, and he thinks, “hahaha, a Caesar salad? Wtf kinda bullshit is that?” So out at #16 is Claudia Rankine.
And now we have whittled off half our field of 30, and 8 people have not even been drawn into the melee as of yet.

frybread sonnet #021: ANTI-LOUNGE BUREAUCRACY

Ain't no paperwork to sitting by the river,
watching ancient arteries not get clogged by
bullshit plans and ambitions that don't deliver,
not dammed by responsible behavior, unhigh.

Ain't no paperwork (except maybe keeping score)
to sitting at scuffed up table with dominoes
scattered like 21st century runes - WE IMPLORE
THIS BULLSHIT WORLD TO CHILL THE FUCK OUT; thus lounge grows.

Ain't no paperwork to crinkling bedsprings with thrust,
putting dirtgod stains upon sheets with threads never
counted because why bother, maintaining my trust
that simple happiness will provide forever.

Too much damn paperwork - bureaucracy's done spread
into real life until feeling triplicate dead.
constant movement towards sun
through indiscernible growth -
a lesson there probably

Thursday, January 28

frybread sonnet #020: R.I.P. MACHO MAN SAVAGE

An ode to the Macho Man Savage - Looking down
from universe's top rope (no doubt), unable
any more to double axe handle upon crown
of fakers of the real fight - these far too stable

"smart" types, unaware of in-real-life's inherent
 madness; Macho Man understood, and his strange words
are still flying elbowdrops, making transparent
truths our manmade psychic fog confuses; buzzwords

and catch phrases spoken by pretend macho men
lack the same urgency, lack full comprehension
of life's harsh struggle between dark and light, and when
you're truly alive, each moment's ruled by tension

and conflict, between heart's desires and mind's training...
There's hardly any true Macho Men remaining.
old Baghdad's House of Wisdom
has no parallel in these
post-modern world capitals

Wednesday, January 27

short poetic blasts nothing,
empty hollow existence,
struggling against rising tides

frybread sonnet #019: BOY, VOTING SEEMS UGLY

SHOUT OUT to Trump supporters - build big walls but make
others pay for it (somehow), talk mad nonsense trash
but it's cool because it ain't the same; time to break
up Washington's status quo (by white dude with cash).

SHOUT OUT to Hillary supporters - let's maintain
upper middle class status quo while we pretend
to be cool with the poors, even if poors abstain
from accepting the condescended help we send.

SHOUT OUT to Bernie supporters - nothing is more
revolutionary than an old ass white dude
sounding like a Seinfeld uncle; let's end all war
with long-time sitting Senator's "new" attitude.

SHOUT OUT to non-voters - no real reason to care
about any of them bastards standing up there.

frybread sonnet #018: STRETCHED TOO THIN THROUGH THE FOG

The ambient fog is thick, plus psychic brambles
poking from all directions, feel caught, feel trapped, feel
like feeling just causes more pain, feel like shambles
and rubble and ash is all I've ever known, steal

what silver I can from the moon, what gold I can
from solar bank, but feel trapped inside coffin bricks
most days, feel grafted into a robotic man
most days, copper veined wishes from commercial tricks

triggering neurology into lust-or-rust,
mind full of fight-or-flight disregarding what's right
or wrong, barbed wire lessening self to maintain thrust
after In God We Trust, but not believing; plight

of the person too late to capitalism
once lies twist vision to split sun to grey prism.

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: The Fourth Part of This Thing


Either you know what’s going on with this thing already, or you stumbled in here now for some reason. But this a Royal Poetry Rumble, in fact, the first one as far as I’m aware. Thus far, these things have transpired:
#30: Lucie Brock-Broido (eliminated by Angie Estes)
#29: Terrance Hayes (eliminated by Laura Kasischke)
#28: Marilyn Hacker (eliminated by Alan Shapiro)
#27: Alan Shapiro (eliminated by Nathaniel Mackey)
#26: Ross Gay (eliminated by Marie Ponsot)
#25: Lawrence Raab (eliminated by Juan Felipe Herrera)
#24: Angie Estes (eliminated by Amy Gerstler)
#23: Ada Limon (eliminated by Dennis O’Driscoll)
#22: Rowan Ricardo Phillips (eliminated by Laura Kasischke)

Thus far, only 15 of the 30 names have been drawn, but 9 people have already been eliminated. And now we can begin with our three randomly drawn match-up for today.

#21: A. Van Jordan (represented by “Vestiges”) vs. Emily Fragos (repped by “The Cellar”)
A. Van Jordan was winner of the Lannan Award for excellence of literary execution, poetry division, last year. He has been randomly drawn to go head-to-head (poem against poem) with Emily Fragos, who was a Witter Bynner fellow in 2015, which is appointed by poet laureate and sort of their way of pointing out either a future superstar of poetry or perhaps an underground legend who has been overlooked. Going in, I know nothing about either of these people, and I have sort of not really felt confident with either end of me not knowing any of these poets. Like that could be a bad thing because I have not read many today poets, and perhaps that is a negative sign upon my own depth of poetic knowledge; but on the other hand perhaps being an outsider would be a good thing, if you assume the internal structure of a fine arts culture to be corrupt and incestuous. And trust me, enough stupid Bukowski memes show up on social media that still make too much sense for me to trust Big Poetry to be trustworthy and altruistic.
Nonetheless, we begin with A. Van Jordan’s “Vestiges”, which starts with a man wanting to swim in the Atlantic, which yes I am down, but then quickly goes into fears of drowning and “fear of bones, walking the ocean floor,” but then I’m not sure he might have referred to an old large penis joke about two men pissing off a bridge, but that’s hard to expect from Big Poetry award winners, so I don’t know. I’ll be honest, he lost me like three times in the matter of only 19 lines. Perhaps I am just warming up to today’s New Criticism endeavor, so I’ll come back if the Fragos poem sucks.
Her offering is called “The Cellar” and it is short, even shorter than “Vestiges”. It also loses me, but the end is:

Who knows this except for you and the laughing 
African with his flashing gold teeth and padlock key.

Basically that’s enough for me to just assume Fragos the winner and move on after an underwhelming opener to today’s three match-ups.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: In "Vestiges" we see a poet who would like to swim in the Atlantic and I am here to tell this poet that this is a dream that s/he can probably realize with only small effort; I do like the idea of an ocean-floor skeleton army, and it aligns and accords with the skeleton army promised in the Book of Ezekiel which I was listening to a reading of just this morning as I did laundry. "The Cellar" has made me sad and sentimental about animals as I read it beneath a small purring cat I would never eat nor allow to be eaten nor yet allow any harm to befall by shopkeepers, or whatever is happening here. A ghastly business. WINNER: "The Cellar"

So knocked out at #21 is A. Van Jordan.

#20: Kevin Young (repped by “Reward”) vs. Laura Kasischke (repped by “Kitchen Song”)
Our next match-up is a pairing of finalists for last year’s Kingsley Tuft award – Kevin Young, making his Royal Poetry Rumble debut, and Laura Kasischke, who already has poetically super-kicked two other poets out of this competition. Surely such a run couldn’t be maintained, with this high caliber of poetic opponent, even with the relatively predictable standard of Big Poetry, could it?
Young’s poem seems to be slavery related, and though I could certainly be considered privileged in my lack of enthusiasm for the subject matter, I do wish when we discussed important issues, we made an effort to maybe add to the conversation, although maybe he did. I don’t know, it’s hard to tip toe around the fact this seemed like somebody doing something in a way that looks clever but might not be but is also about a subject you can’t challenge, kind of like bad poetry about cancer-stricken children. So I will just uneasily look at Laura Kasischke’s next poem.
It is called “Kitchen Song”, and I think maybe I’m not in the right mind for poetry today as all of this shit feels unnecessary and too much. Like why does poetry have to be so unnecessary so often? Isn’t it supposed to be about urgent shit? And shouldn’t urgent shit be pretty direct, and not a roundabout whirligig towards OH FUCK FIRE FIRE? Why do we have to hint and camouflage and do all this nonsense dancing around what the fuck we’re trying to accomplish? Fuck.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "Reward" is dark but it is nice that the person at the end may still forgive the slaves that have escaped her. I don't know if that's very good poem if I may speak openly here and "Kitchen Song" isn't a hekk of a lot better I guess but there is a plain precision to the concluding lines "Dad turned the radio off, and Mom turned it back on" that give it the edge in this our least compelling contest to date I think. WINNER: "Kitchen Song"

Thus, eliminated at #20 is Kevin Young. Also now Laura Kasischke has eliminated three of the eleven people who have been knocked out thus far. WHO WILL STOP THIS POETIC POWERHOUSE?

#19: Dennis O’Driscoll (repped by “Weather Permitting”) vs. Joy Harjo (repped by “She Had Some Horses”)
Oh look, Dennis O’Driscoll, who just won the previous day, has been drawn again, this time versus Joy Harjo, who was the 2015 winner of the Wallace Stevens award.
And I am glad I was so bored with all of today’s poetry up to this point, because Mr. O’ Driscoll absolutely piledrives home the reality of regular shit in his first stanza, which is just about a fuckin’ rain out on a vacation day at some rented cottage, but goddamn he nails it, and does poetic bullshit which only makes the nailing even better. It is very much like when a wrestler is punching another wrestler – you know it’s not real, and really it’s probably unnecessary, and violence is not the answer (nor is poetry), but also maybe thinking about violence IS the answer (same with poetry). And sure, there are more important poems about slavery and dead parents and shit like that, so it might seem even more unnecessary to write a stanza about rain while on vacation, but goddamn if O’Driscoll doesn’t execute the fuck out of his notion to do just that. And fuck if he doesn’t resist stopping there, but comes in FURIOUSLY HARD in the second stanza, just straight up setting up chairs and tables and doing double backflips off the top rope into the first row of the crowd:

Let the worms burrow their way to the topsoil 
from whatever dank Sargasso they were spawned in. 
Let the dampness rot the coffin-boards of the summer house. 
Let the shrubs lose their foothold in the wind, 
the nettles lose their edge, the drenched rat 
with slicked-back hair scuttle to its sewage pipe.

And I am in my brain (and also my heart) thinking YES YES YES, and he goes:

Let the bricklayers at the building site wrap 
pathetic sheets of polyethene around doomed foundations.

And I am like FUCK YES FUCK YES FUCK YES! And then the rain stops, and I am almost sad, like in first my heart it starts, but the thought flows up to my brain, but in the time the thought goes from my heart to my brain, that I am unconsciously sad the rain stopped in this poem, and just about to also be consciously sad about that fact, as it moves from unconsciousness to consciousness, O’Driscoll counters:

The storm runs out of wind; nature, which 
abhors a silence, fills the vacancy with birdsong.

And though I have been turned completely emotionally speaking, I am still thinking fuck yes but in softer and worn out ways, and he goes:

How easily pleased we are. Rescind 
the threat of torment for the briefest 
second and we blot out dark nights of the soul…

And he just didn’t even let up from there, it is like Sabu and Rob Van Dam did a FMW tour you never knew existed while some luchadors were also there.
Joy Harjo’s poem, coming after this, is already perhaps doomed, but the fact her poem seems to be a freewrite on the prompt “hey, some woman had horses, so write a bunch of shit about that for ten minutes… GO!” It is a completely different thing than this “Weather Permitting” poem, and one is very much a method of extreme not fucking around I can get behind, whereas the other is a small portion of both my heart and brain, my conscious and unconscious minds, that were momentarily wasted on some trite shit.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: There is a part in "Weather Permitting" where it says "In truth - manipulating toast crumbs backwards, forwards at the unsteady table’s edge - you’d prefer to return to your bed as if with some mild ailment, pampered by duvet, whiskey, cloves" and it is just so appalling somehow. I am not averse to poems about how it is nice, and yet complicated, at cottages, or whatever, but those lines are awfully tough to get around. It isn't even the sentiment or anything; I think it's the lack of an article before duvet. The overall effect is shocking and wrong. "She Had Some Horses" by contrast should immediately be set to music of several different intensities and then revered. WINNER: "She Had Some Horse"

For the first time in this joint endeavor, I am OUTRAGED at the kvlt scholar’s sensibilities. But I told myself beforehand that his decision was final, regardless of my thoughts on the matter, but it’s hard to accept this because a fucking poem about some goddamned horses is NO FUCKING GOOD. smdh forever. But anyways, knocked out (wrongfully perhaps) at #19 is Dennis O’Driscoll.
whisper "Allahu akbar"
doing push-ups against bright
universal tapestry

Tuesday, January 26

vacant apartment buildings
don't hold their copper pipes well;
vacated hearts pump cold blood

S14: Top 14 Football Clubs From Places In The Former Yugoslavia

The break-up of Yugoslavia has fascinated me greatly in recent years, probably because in my caveman-like American education system upbringing, there is white folks and there is black folks, which has been expanded to include all non-white folks. Of course I am being purposefully simplistic here, and I try to live my life (and lead my children’s lives) to minimize the effect of racial pseudo-sciences on their psyche. But as the eastern bloc of communist countries propped up by the Soviet Union came unraveled in the ‘90s, nowhere was there more chaos and conflict than the former Yugoslavia. And the reason for this is essentially that whiteness is not as simple as the American Dream (RIP Dusty Rhodes) would lead one to believe. Yugoslavia disintegrated (and actually continues to, with regards to Kosovo as well as other territories) into various shades of what we’d call “whiteness” here in America, that were all very firm in their distinctions between each other, to the point they wanted to kill the fuck out of each other. Thus, I find that interesting, as ultimately I think America will always be fucked as long as it sees things in simple black-and-white terms, both racially but really in all aspects of our culture, we tend to break it down into two polar opposites and that’s it, no in betwixt thinking allowed. “You’re either with us, or against us.”
So for this week’s Sporting 14, I decided to travel through the fourteen soccer clubs in nations that were formerly part of Yugoslavia that have had the most continental success in the past 14 years, meaning games played in either the UEFA Champions League or the Europa League. (Champions League counts double.) Most of these teams may not seem relevant when one thinks about the current heavyweight clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich and the English league’s most premier clubs, but the (at the time) Yugoslavian club Red Star Belgrade actually won the Champions Cup, which was what the Champions League was back then, in 1991.
But additionally, there is a strong football/soccer undercurrent to the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Not long after Croatia had multi-party elections favoring Croatian independence in 1990, there was a big rivalry derby between Red Star Belgrade (now of Serbia) and Dinamo Zagreb (now of Croatia) which ended in conflict and riot, and in fact the captain of Dinamo Zagreb, Zvonimir Boban, kicking a cop, who were mostly Croatian, because the cop was beating a Dinamo supporter. Now understand with these teams (and many teams still in non-wealthy leagues, but especially in Eastern Europe) supporters can often mean “nationalist thug”, which is exactly what a lot of the hardcore supporters were for these two teams in that time of rising ethnic tensions, before the actual Yugoslav Wars broke out and ethnic tensions became ethnic cleansings. Some of the larger and more nefarious militias were composed of football club “supporters”, and due to lack of open space in many larger cities, it is suggested that more than a few current football stadiums in former Yugoslavian states are likely all mass graves.
So let us travel around the former Yugoslavia through it’s most successful football clubs of the past 14 years, from the nations of Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia, which all were once Yugoslavia…

#1: GNK DINAMO ZAGREB (Zagreb, Croatia) – One of the most successful clubs in this area, both before the break-up as well as afterwards, and one that could probably be considered as national a Croatian team as is possible in league play. The actual club was formed in the late 1940s, but during the rising ethnic tensions period of the early ‘90s, they started claiming ties to Croatian clubs from before then, and have always tip-toed (stomped?) along extreme right-wing nationalist lines. Their ultras group is called the Bad Blue Boys, and is one of the most notorious in all of Europe, both for the violent intensity as well as their racist-as-fuck attitude. Still, Dinamo Zagreb has been one of the only teams from former Yugoslavia to be able to qualify for the Champions League group stage in recent years, including during this 2015-16 season. And though they’ve never advanced beyond that group stage, they did beat Arsenal during that stage this past September in Zagreb. They’ve also won the Croatian First Football League ten years in a row, and sit just barely at the top of that table again for this season. And for comparison’s sake with the rest of these teams, they won four Yugoslav First League titles, and 7 Yugoslav Cups before Yugoslavia ceased to exist.

#2: FK PARTIZAN (Belgrade, Serbia) – Partizan is another regional heavyweight, though this club didn’t have as prominent a spot in obvious break-up of Yugoslavia as their top Serbian rival, Red Star Belgrade, did. But Partizan was the first Balkan (thus Yugoslavian, and actually in all of Eastern Europe) club to make the Champions Cup final, losing to Real Madrid. The club was formed initially by military officers, and in fact the name itself Partizan refers to a Communist military formation. They are still only the second-most popular Serbian club, but enjoy a lot of support in Serbian pockets of Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina (which includes an autonomous Serbian region still, called Republika Srpska). Their supporters are called Grobari, which means the Gravediggers, and actually there is an alternate crest for Partizan featuring a shovel. And though the Grobari have had their fair share of notable moments of hooliganism, they pale in comparison to Red Star Belgrade, and lack the same ultra-nationalist history. The club has won the Serbian SuperLiga 7 of the last 8 years, and they’ve made group stage of the Champions League twice in the past 14 years, and the Europa League multiple times, but never gotten beyond that, except for 2005 when they made it all the way to the round of 16 in the Europa League knockout stage (still called UEFA Cup then). And during the dissolving period between 1992 and 2005, they won 8 league titles in whatever assortment of countries were still aligned, plus 11 Yugoslav First League titles before then, as well as 5 Yugoslav Cups.

#3: NK MARIBOR (Maribor, Slovenia) – Maribor is the top club from Slovenia, having won the Slovenian First League six years in a row, and 13 times total. The biggest accomplishment they had when in the full Yugoslav football system was making a Yugoslav Cup semi-final in 1968, and winning the Second League in 1966-67. They sort of break away from the ethnic militarism of other clubs from former Yugoslavia (I guess sort of like how Slovenia as a nation has done) by wearing purple (instead of traditional blue or red war colors) and being not afraid to bring in foreigners, including from South America and Africa. In fact, their current captain is a Brazilian player, Marco Tavares, who is their all-time top goal-scorer, and has been with the club since 2008, and in fact gained his Slovenian citizenship a few years back. (The whole “citizenship” of football players is a completely sketchy subject that could occupy a thousand Sporting 14 lists itself, and also makes Abby Wambach’s anti-“foreign guys” statement at her retirement so fucking stupid.) Unrelated to anything but really fucking scary sounding is the fact the President of NK Maribor right now is named Drago Cotar.

#4: RED STAR BELGRADE (Belgrade, Serbia) – It’s no coincidence that Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb were involved in a riot that many considered one of the triggering events of the break-up of Yugoslavia. More so than most clubs, Red Star Belgrade had multiple notable supporter groups, who shared the North stand in their home stadium. Some were more Italian, with the songs and fireworks shit, while others were more traditionally English (for the time) meaning they got drunk and fought people. It all sort of morphed together, and in the late ‘80s when fragmented nationalism started spiking throughout Yugoslavia after Tito’s stronghold over the country was gone, these supporters became fiercely Serbian nationalist. (Speaking of Tito – Josep Tito – it should be noted here that not only the fall of Soviet Union contributed to break-up of Yugoslavia, as Tito was President of the nation from 1953 until his death in 1980. And despite our western declarations for DEMOCRACY and how bad dictators are, Tito was able – as unquestioned authoritarian – to hold together the disparate ethnicities of Yugoslavia. Once he died, with no one of that eminence to replace him, it was only a matter of time probably, whether the Soviet Union fell or not, which of course, Croatia was declaring independence before the Soviet Union broke up.) But due to these supporters, their maintained rivalry with city rival Partizan is considered The Eternal Derby, and always a chaotic match, even with the shared ethnicity. Most all the former Yugoslavian nations have their own “Eternal Derby” but the Partizan/Red Star one is the one that maintains the most infamy and prominence, even if Red Star Belgrade has only won a pair of Serbian Super Liga titles during the current phase (since 2007), but with 5 more during the 1990s-2006 transition period, and 19 in the old Yugoslav First League. They also won the Yugoslav Cup 12 times, and were one of the most prominent clubs then, if not so much now. But as mentioned before, they are the only Yugoslavian club to have ever won the European Cup/Champions League, which given current conditions of modern football business plan, I doubt any of these teams will ever get close again, at least not until capitalism falls. (This also is one of the great things about football clubs – that the teams survive multiple regimes/governments, and the supporters end up with this notion that they own the team far more than any person who simply buys it could.)

#5: HNK HAJDUK SPLIT (Split, Croatia) – Hajduk Split is the other big Croatian club (both of which have Croatian red and white checkerboard on their crest). The club was originally started by students at a bar, back when Yugoslavia was still a Kingdom before World War II. They’ve won six Croatian First League titles since 1992 (including in 1992), and won 9 Yugoslav First League titles before then, as well as 9 Yugoslav Cups. They form the other half of Croatia’s Eternal Derby when they play against Dinamo Zagreb.

#6: FK RABOTNICKI (Skopje, Macedonia) – Rabotnicki are one of the top Macedonian clubs, having won the Macedonian First League four times, but were not really a prominent fixture of Yugoslavian First League, having only competed in the Yugoslav First League for only two years. But even relegation back then was ethnic/regional, as the second level league they mostly competed in – and won 8 times, was a Macedonian specific league. Macedonia, though declaring independence in 1991 during the initial fracturing of Yugoslavia, maintained peaceable relations throughout most of the break-up, although during the Kosovo War in 1999, a large influx of Albanian refugees caused there an Albanian nationalist presence in the country. With Albania on one border, and Albanian-heavy Kosovo (which is working towards becoming a seventh nation carved from the former Yugoslavia, and is doing so first and foremost through football, actually trying to get UEFA recognition as its own entity in time for World Cup qualifying this spring) on the other, there’s a lot of threatening talk of the Albanian-dominant portions of Macedonia becoming part of Albania or their own nation. So that’s your future fragment of all this, potentially.

#7: FK SARAJEVO (Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina) – Sarajevo is one of the most successful Bosnian clubs, with a history going back to post World War II. They’ve won the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina three times, and had won the old Yugoslav First League twice. A lot of prominent soccer rivalries in cities around the world revolve around a working class team and a middle class team. In Sarajevo, FK Sarajevo would be considered the middle class team. Their supporters, known as the Pitari (eaters of pita), have not been the most infamous of former Yugoslav clubs, but did have a highlight moment in 1986 when they threw a large painted viper snake onto the visitor’s bench during a match against Red Star Belgrade (the most hated team in all non-Belgrade games back in those days). Sarajevo was pretty fucked during the siege of Bosnia, and I guess you’d have to consider FK Sarajevo the more assimilated of the two big Sarajevo clubs (the other one comes later in this list), but that sort of assumes Bosnia has been assimilated. There’s this dude Aleksandar Hermon who won a MacArthur Genius grant a few years back, and is a noted essayist who is a fan of the club. I didn’t get knocked away by his stuff like I had hoped, but he’s a great writer to check out if you are interested in this shit, and he has an essay called “If God Existed, He’d be a Solid Midfielder” that’s a great fucking read, though I think online it might mostly be behind paywalls. BUT THERE ARE WAYS (as you hopefully already know).

#8: NK SIROKI BRIJEG (Siroki Brijeg, Bosnia & Herzegovina) – Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a multi-ethnic nation where the old Bosnian/Croat/Serb rivalries fester. Siroki Brijeg is the top Croatian club in Bosnia & Herzegovina’s national lines. They’ve won the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina titles two times, as well as five titles of the previous First League of Herzeg-Bosnia that followed Yugoslavia’s break-up.  Oddly, the team has existed since 1948, but never experienced any success of note in the former Yugoslavia, because Siroki Brijeg the city didn’t get a lot of support from the government, as a smaller city. All of its successes have happened since Yugoslavia broke-up, and partially perhaps due to the support of Croatians still living under Bosnian flag. As of today, they are third in the Premier League standings this season, just behind Zrinjski Mostar and Sloboda Tuzla.

#9: FK ZELJEZNICAR (Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina) – Zeljeznicar is the other big club in Sarajevo. “Zeljeznicar” means railway worker, and were one of the best Bosnian teams during the Yugoslav First League era, actually winning the Yugoslav First League in 1971-72 season. After the break-up of the country, they became and remained a top club in Bosnia, but they’ve been known for developing talent that they end up selling off to larger clubs in other nations. They are the working class team opposed to FK Sarajevo’s more middle class support. “Zeljo is a matter of philosophy, and Sarajevo is a matter of geography” goes the mantra of Zeljeznicar supporters. Their rivalry is Bosnia’s “Eternal Derby” though the rivalry is not as violent and full of hate as its parallels in Serbia and Croatia.

#10: FK VARDAR (Skopje, Macedonia) – Vardar (named after a river, always a solid move imo) is the most popular Macedonian club, and has won the Macedonian First League 8 times since it’s inception in 1992, including 3 out of the last 4 years. Notably, they also won a Yugoslav Cup title in 1961, rare for teams outside the Serbian/Croatian stronghold clubs. Having a sizeable stadium (capacity 33,000) for the Balkan states, and regular appearances in UEFA tournaments (due to always winning in Macedonia), the club is set to maintain its position as prominent small nation super club.

#11: HNK RIJEKA (Rijeka, Croatia) – Rijeka is a top Croatian club, oddly situated in a city that was originally part of Italy before becoming part of Yugoslavia after World War II. In fact, this club’s foundation is disputed as potentially in 1946 when Rijeka became part of Yugoslavia, but also potentially much earlier as U.S. Fiumana (the city was known as Fiume while still part of Italy) back in 1926. Nonetheless, Rijeka competed in the old Yugoslav First League, and though they never won they are proud to tout they were the best-placing Croatian club three seasons during that time, and won the Yugoslav Cup twice. Unfortunately, being in the same league as Dinamo Zagreb the powerhouse means they’ve never won a league title in current Croatia, though have consistently been number two, and in fact made group stage of the Europa League two out of the past three seasons. Their rivalry with Hajduk Split, called the Adriatic Derby, is considered their most heated rivalry.

#12: ND GORICA (Nova Gorica, Slovenia) – Gorica is the second top team from Slovenia, and won the Slovenian National League four times, and has consistently competed in UEFA club competitions throughout the 2000s.

#13: FK VOJVODINA (Novi Sad, Serbia) – Vojvodina is a Serbian club from the second largest city in Serbia, called Novi Sad, which I am going to guess translates as the New Sad. Obviously if you are living in a post-Yugoslav Balkan second city called the New Sad, it’s a meager life, straddling the false promises of Communism and late capitalism. I kinda don’t even give a fuck about more specifics on this team, or the rest of this list honestly, because the whole specter of that straddling two economic eras, neither of which has been what it’s promised, makes me feel the new sad.

#14: HSK ZRINJSKI MOSTAR (Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina) – Zrinjski Mostar competes in Bosnia, but is Croatian, and includes the Croat checkerboard on their crest. During World War II, there was an outlaw league that competed in the region, and once the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed after the war, all teams that had competed in it were banned, including Zrinjski Mostar. Thus they stopped existing from 1945 to 1992, due to being associated with pre-Yugoslavia nationalism. Odd that they finally reformed, proudly Croat, under Bosnian existence, and continue to do so there. The whole region is complicated as fuck, and the Bosnian Premier League actually has Bosnian and Serbian and Croatian teams all together still, so you wonder if shit won’t pop off again at some point, though during social unrest in Bosnia a few years back, those left there made street proclamations (through graffiti and banners) that it was a proud and tolerant multi-ethnic state. Time will tell though. Zrinjski Mostar has won the Bosnian Premier League three times though.