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.

Friday, January 29

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.

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