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.

Wednesday, January 27

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.

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