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.

Monday, January 18

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: Introduction

The Royal Rumble is a stupid professional wrestling event where 30 people are thrown into a chaotic clusterfuck of bad wrestling, in a way that seems like it could never work, and yet somehow it’s perhaps the most entertaining of all stupid professional wrestling events (which tend to get stupider and stupider as you get older and older). I hardly watch wrestling at all any more, and if I ever do it’s usually something with nostalgic value buried inside the youtubes, but man when I was younger, I used to love that shit. But it remains one of those shameful things I’d never admit to anybody, though I don’t try to hide it necessarily either. It just sort of floats out there in the aether of personal experience, like a bad trip (drugs, not travel, though that Venn diagram has large crossover potential).
Similarly, I guess I’d be considered a “poet”. People have introduced me as such. People have consulted me as such. And yet every time that word is applied to me, it makes every molecule of my being cringe in embarrassment. Poetry can be as wretched as professional wrestling, and the deeper into the ESTABLISHED POETRY INDUSTRY (if you could call it an “industry”), the more wretched and horrible it gets (much like pro wrestling). And though at its true nature and in the filthy underground tendrils of it, poetry can be amazing (much like pro wrestling), it’s mostly known to the average person as this ridiculous spectacle that tends to live up to the horrible stereotypes about it (again, much like pro wrestling). 
Well, rather than write an unnecessary thinkpiece in the longest of forms about all this, and perhaps examine my own self and personal biases and shortcomings, and try to untangle some of these issues I obviously have (exemplified by my shameful love of both pro wrestling and poetry), I decided to make it a “you got your peanut butter into my chocolate” thing, and throw the two together. Thus is born the first (and perhaps only) annual ROYAL POETRY RUMBLE.
I did some serious research (fucked around on Wikipedia at work) and came up with AN EXTENSIVE AND SERIOUS (looks good I guess) list of the most important poetry positions, awards, and honors. And through this, a field of 30 competitors was developed. They are, as follows:
#1: The current U.S. poet laureate, which does not necessarily change each year, but it’s considered an important and prestigious position, sort of like being the World Heavyweight champion in wrestling, so they are included. (That’s one.)
#2-3: The poet laureate of the U.S. gets two appoint two people as Wytter Bynner fellows, which is like being the under-laureate I guess, though it’s done yearly. (That’s two more.)
#4: The National Book Award winner for the previous year in poetry. This is one of the highest awards for poetry books. (That’s another.) #5-8: Plus, the winner of this award is taken from a short list of five books, so all those other short-listers get added as well. (Four more.) #9-13: And the shortlist is culled from a longer longlist of ten books, so let’s add those other five folks as well. (I probably don’t need to do these parenthesis add-ons, counting up, when the numbers before the listing are already doing that work.)
#14: The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for book of poetry, which is another MAJOR AWARD that a poet aspires to, because even though nobody heard of you, suddenly after you win the Pulitzer, there are newspaper articles about you, and people who are fringe poetry types (perhaps from embarrassment) are suddenly like, “Oh hey, here’s a poet fucker who sounds cool, I guess. Let me see if I can get their book for cheap as fuck on half.com.” (But I enjoy the visual aspect of the parenthesis too much to completely give it up.) #15-16: There are always three finalists for the Pulitzer, which means two people don’t win the award. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be READY TO RUMBLE! (Through poetry though.)
#17: There was this dude who was some sort of shipyard executive but he loved to write poetry, and was featured in various high-brow poetry places (New Yorker, for example). But then he died, so his wife sold off all their shit and created the Kingsley Tufts poetry award in his honor (because now I can tell you his name was Kingsley Tufts). It is given not for a book of poetry but to somebody who has a body of work already, thus established to some extent. It’s a $100,000 prize though, so it’s kind of a big deal if you’re a starving ass writer (though perhaps this brings up the elephant in the room in that what type of person can afford to go to graduate school for an MFA in Creative Writing, and can afford to dick around with words all the time). But even if you are successful, and firmly embedded in academia as a teacher (the only way to make money as a writer of Serious Literature, imo), an extra hundred grand buys a lot of pink crystal salt from the local Whole Foods alternative run by yoga practitioners. (Kingsley Tufts is a fairly immense name, so you knew that dude was gonna have some sort of award named after him, regardless.) #18-21: There are four other finalists for that award, so might as well include them here as well, because we have to have 30 poets. (I mean, we don’t “have to” really, but that is the arbitrary ruling I have made from the beginning, so that this Royal Poetry Rumble at least matches the actual professional wrestling Royal Rumble in number of competitors.)
#22: The Wallace Stevens awards is another hundred thousand dollar award, given out annually, to somebody who has a “proven mastery of the art of poetry” (according to their website), so that’s obviously some serious business, and this poet should be included as well.
#23: Similarly, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry is given to somebody who has represented the fuck out of poetry, to a level that has effected American literature. That’s totally like Jeff Hardy in pro wrestling, so probably somebody who in the world of poetry is a certain Intercontinental champion, but not may or may not develop into a World champion (poet laureate), because that’s more exclusive level of dominant presence. (The PEN/Voelcker Award is only given out every other year, which means if I do this a second year, that person will get to return to the fracas next year!)
#24: The Bollingen Prize (given out by Yale) is like a mash-up of all these things, in that it also is given out every other year, and MAY recognize a notable book of poetry put out in the previous two years, or it MAY recognize an overall greatness of getting poetic shit accomplished. So naturally, I include that person. (And naturally, they’ll get to go through two years of this, perhaps, depending on my own motivation to do this again as well as my fleeting mortality.)
#25-27: The Ruth Lilley Poetry Prize is another $100,000 check doled out yearly to somebody who is exemplary “whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition.” It is given out by the Poetry Foundation, whose website is where I got that quoted line about how awesome this poet is sposed to have been. (I don’t know about finalists, so I’m just gonna include the three most recent previous winners in our field.)
#28-30: And finally, the Lannan Literary Awards are the big payday of all prizes, at $150,000. They are given out in various genres, including poetry, and yet not given out annually necessarily. It’s not real clear how that all works, and what triggers giving out the awards, beyond trying to give poets some financial breathing room and public recognition for their shit. (So I’ll include the three most recent recipients in the field of poetry, to fill out our field of 30 for this ridiculous endeavor.)
In the actual professional wrestling Royal Rumble, the entrants draw numbers from 1 to 30, to determine their order of battle. (Yes, this is all worked according to the strange cultural theatrics of professional wrestling, but let’s put all that aside for sake of word flow, okay?) For the purposes of the Royal Poetry Rumble, I’ve just thrown the 30 poets onto a spreadsheet, and then randomized them some numbers. I’ll pull out pairs to go head-to-head through a single poem, in groups of six, thus by luck of the (randomized robot) draw, a poet might have to battle multiple times over and again to stay alive in this thing, while somebody else might not get drawn at all yet. That’ll eliminate folks down in batches of three, until we get to six left (30 to 27 to 24 to 21 to 18 to 15 to 12 to 9 to 6). Then, I’ll randomify two pairs (to take it down to 4), and then two more pairs, which will leave us with our final pair of poets. Each time they are drawn, they get represented by a different (and new to this nonsense) poem.
But how to decide who wins? And where to get their poems? Well, I can answer that second question first. Being this is the internet, I’m gonna do my best to find the poems used on the internet. There’s a slightly shitty website full of poems called Poemhunter. I’ll use up whatever poems by the poet is there first, simply because you can list their poems on the site by which one’s been hit the most (in terms of page views). That’s a skewed and fucked-up away to pretend you are using their best poem. The Poetry Foundation (which gives out one of the above awards) also has an extensive database of online poems by many poets, so I’ll go there second. They have more poems, but they’re just listed alphabetically, which means I’ll have to arbitrarily decide which one to use next. If at some point I use up all the available poems on both those sites, then I’ll figure some other shit out to keep it going.
Now obviously (as you can tell by this intro), I’ll probably write-up some longform stream of unconscious gibberish nonsense about the head-to-head match-ups of poems (and thus poet). But I didn’t think it fair to just let me decide. I mean, who the fuck am I? (Just some guy on the internet, writing about writing, or something like that, I guess.) So I’ve enlisted the help of a friend who is a noted and trusted scholar, and yet also keeps their perspective fogged properly by popular culture. They will be known throughout the course of this nonsense as the kvlt scholar (he can be found inside the twitters as @badtracking). They lost their teaching gig at a university (like most people have in recent years) so they’ve got extra time on their hands. I’m gonna send them the poems, with author removed, simply formatted in a word doc, and let them decide completely arbitrarily which one advances. This will be referred to as “the kvlt scholar’s hantei” and will be the final decision in each match-up. Thus, my long-winded nonsense gibberish may not even match who wins. But whatever.

So I guess this is how all this ridiculousness came to be, and will go down. We begin tomorrow, WHEN THREE POETS WILL BE ELIMINATED, and will whittle down the field, until the final two are left, and one of them will win, and then there will be a weird wrestling event, and you can think about poetry and wrestling or wrestling and poetry, but either way the two will be intertwined forever in your consciousness, along with perhaps me (hopefully), and we will be done for the year, having crowned our ROYAL POETRY RUMBLE WINNER OF 2016. (Note: I had anticipated starting this to go daily in the weeks before the actual Royal Rumble, and to end on the morning of the actual rumble, but you know how shit goes.)

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