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 22

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: The Second Part


Perhaps you know or perhaps you don’t but earlier this week a thing called the Royal Poetry Rumble began on this website, where 30 active, alive, and I guess current poets (because they all won recent awards) are randomizingly drawn into a fucking rumble of head-to-head poesy, in a ridiculous and convoluted attempt to Create Content (aka fuck around). But to recap up to this point (which has only been an intro and three people getting eliminated) here is what has occurred, at least in terms of eliminations (and by who):
#30: Lucie Brock-Broido (eliminated by Angie Estes)
#29: Terrance Hayes (eliminated by Laura Kasischke)
#28: Marilyn Hacker (eliminated by Alan Shapiro)
So that put’s us back to now, with our first match-up of today’s three…

#27: Nathaniel Mackey (represented by “Song of the Andoumboulou: 60”) vs. Alan Shapiro (repped by “Sleet”)

Nathaniel Mackey steps to the field having been the latest recipient of the Bollingen Prize which goes to best book of new verse in last two years, or for lifetime achievement. It’s run by Yale University Library. Mackey’s poem is the longest one to show up thus far, and being I am a fan of the most epic of poetries, I’m okay with that. However, this is free verse (an affliction which has been a terminal sore upon American poetry for far too long imo), so I don’t know. Add in the crazy title which if it’s about an imaginary land where elven witches are fucking mountain mystics, that might be cool, but being this is highly awarded 2016 American poetry, I’m gonna guess there’s very little elven orgy aspect to it.
Mackey’s opponent is Alan Shapiro, whose name was randomized back into the mix again, even though he actually just won the last battle from the other day. This is one of the unfortunate side effects of the Royal Poetry Rumble format mimicking the wrestling Royal Rumble – it’s not a single-elimination bracketed thing like a dumbass March Madness-style tournament. So motherfuckers have to come back out and do their thing if my randomizer function in an excel spreadsheet forces them to do so again.
Mackey’s poem is called Song of the Andoumboulou: 60, and like I said, it’s long as fuck. After powering my way through the whole first part (I’m assuming because there’s one of those _____ line breaks, which to me can only mean “yo, here’s the next part”), I don’t dislike it. I mean, it’s masturbatory free verse with inexplicable line breaks even more inexplicable than standard free verse, but the language is interesting enough my fractured brain can enjoy it. Sort of like going to a hippie potluck where you know there’s gonna be 19 different pasta salads but then the pasta salad you got some of it actually had green peas and some mayonnaise in it, so even though it’s maybe horrible, it’s not as horrible as everything else sitting on the table with it.
So I decided to go scope out Sleet by Alan Shapiro before going into the second part of Mackey’s poem. Mr. Shapiro comes out the gate like this:

What was it like before the doctor got there? 
Till then, we were in the back seat of the warm
dark bubble of the old Buick. We were where
we’d never not been, no matter where we were.

This was not only so far not my lane, but completely asinine to me that I decided to go google this dude before I went any further. And I won’t he say he is exactly what I expected, but I won’t say he’s not. Actually he is exactly what I expected – New England educated poet “teaching” poetry at a public ivy, in his case University of North Carolina. But maybe in the back recesses of my head I thought, “Maybe you’ll be a known poet one day, and this is roughly the same region… you might meet this dude, you might even have mutual friends.” But lolol we don’t got no mutual friends. I’m not gonna be in this dude’s world ever. So this dude thinks the back seat of the Buick is a dark bubble? He should try doing meth as his dad’s funeral. That’s a dark fucking bubble. And guess what? The doctor ain’t even fucking coming (unless you count the biker guy nicknamed “Dr. John” who will probably show up with a half-gallon of Jim Beam before the night’s over).
I don’t get fucking poetry. Why is it all so goddamned gentrified and Whole Foodsy? What the fuck? Anyways, deeper into Shapiro I go…

But when the doctor started speaking… 
The tip of the Marlboro was a bright red star.
Her lips pursed and she released a ring of Saturn,
which dissolved as we caught at it, as my dad sang Mars.

SHAKE. MY. DAMN. HEAD. I mean, okay, I finished the poem and obviously his brother (who was in the back seat with him) died of a tumor or some shit, and life interrupted by death and losing the ones we love is horrible, that’s a given. That’s a given for all of humanity, meaning every human being who lives and breaths and exists on this planet Earth. And yet somehow, when it comes to Important Poetry about this thing that is common to all humanity, it is always from a certain position and perspective, which very often has a certain-hued face as well as sexual appendage. Why is that?
Well, I mean obviously the answer is those are the people who decide what is great and worthwhile, and usually those groups of judging class are composed of those types, so it ends becoming this self-perpetuating thing. Sure, they allow in a few assimilated types for some nice diversity porn shots for the campus website, but it’s still mostly the same, even if it looks different in the shop window. You go inside, it’s still the same. (And you’re not welcome.)
Ugh. So I go back to Mackey, and I’m not excited about another three pages of masturbatory free verse, but honestly he’s gonna have to completely go off the rails and fuck up for me not to lean that way. And nothing about all this shit Mackey was talking about really seemed all that important to me, but it didn’t seem unimportant, and it floated there with some made-up shit and a couple linguistic flourishes and more inexplicable line breaks, so it did exactly what a 2016 Great American Poem is supposed to do. It didn’t counter the bullshit about the doctor, it wasn’t to that level of pretentious godawfulness, but it probably aspires to be that one day. And I guess on the sliding scale of still being real, that makes Song of the Andouboulou: 60 skew further away from triggering my Lizard People Syndrome than Sleet. But let’s see what our friend the kvlt scholar has to say:

THE KVLT SCHOLAR'S HANTEI: I am totally willing to allow for the possibility/certainty that there is something I'm missing or whatever but "Song of the Andoumboulou: 60" seems meandering and willfully obscure but not in the way for example John Ashbury is in ones that show up in the NYer where if you squint hard enough you can *maybe* see what the girl on the chocolate tin has to do with the other things going on; "A first unfallen church of what might've been" is however a fully great line that occurs somewhere in there so it is not to be totally thrown over or anything. "Sleet" is much tighter and preciser and that is to be admired and I can be as no-ideas-but-in-things as anybody (lol not really) but "A first unfallen church of what might've been" is I think better than anything that happens here so in what can only seem an upset to me given what is known about me by me I am calling it. WINNER: "Song of the Andoumboulou: 60"

So eliminated at #27 is Alan Shapiro.

#26: Marie Ponsot (repped by “Pathetic Fallaces Are Bad Science But”) vs. Ross Gay (repped by “Prayer For My Unborn Niece orNephew”)

Marie Ponsot was the 2013 recipient of the Ruth Lilley prize for poetic bad-assery, and since the last three winners of that were included in our field, she is here. And she was drawn next. Her opponent is Ross Gay, who made the shortlist for National Book Award for Poetry last year.
Ponsot is not fucking around. She storms out into the very beginning with:

If leaf-trash chokes the stream bed, 
reach for rock-bottom as you rake

And though she loses me towards the end, I get her point, and even more so enjoy the direction she was headed, even if she took a different path than I would’ve liked. And if we are to keep this in parallel with professional wrestling (which we will), even if the overall work did not amaze me, the moves/parts/lines/phrases that I liked, did amaze me enough to trust that man, I bet Marie Ponsot could totally fuck me up with a poem if I read the right one.
Due to the highly personal nature of the title of Mr. Gay’s poem, I’m afraid. It’s hard to be a dick about personal shit, which is why a lot of self-help styled writing workshops are all about creating safe spaces where anybody can share anything. I think that’s important, especially when those workshops are occupied by people still learning to have a voice after a lifetime and perhaps generations of voicelessness.
As far as poetry goes, Ross Gay’s poem is nice, nothing horrible, but it is also textbook American Poetry. If we were sitting in a circle of Wal-Mart folding chairs in some community space sharing our poems of survival and rehabilitation, this would fit in nicely, and I would probably say to this person afterwards, “Hey, I liked your poem a lot,” because I tend to do that. We are all broken people to some extent so little words of encouragement are important. I know I wish I got them more often. Thus, neither of these poems bothered me, but Gay’s had no highlight moments which teased me into thinking, “Oh fuck, if I got hold of a really hot Ross Gay poem, it’d be the shit!” And I guess Ponsot did do that at least, thus I’d lean towards her, but again, that decision belongs solely to the kvlt scholar:

THE KVLT SCHOLAR'S HANTEI: "Pathetic Fallacies Are Bad Science But (On reading Susanne K. Langer's Mind)" is so keen and so sharp and so wise (yeah that's right fvkkn *wise*) that I don't see how this is not as decisive a contest as when the hawk made off with the poor lil wood thrush (the transition from nature in a brook to nature in a book is so sikk); ok yeah "Prayer For My Unborn Niece or Nephew" goes down hard here and for a couple of reasons, not least of which is that I don't like it when people carry on about nieces and nephews like they are their own kids which is a completely unreasonable position and almost certainly not even what is happening here but I nevertheless object. Also the forever-reigning champion of poems about babies that aren't yours is Larkin's "Born Yesterday" for Kingsley Amis' daughter Sally where he is like "may you be dull" and yet also the most sentimental he ever got; this is way worse than that. Also take a fvkkn lesson from the Amis poem for a baby, it was, like, not about all of your shit. I also resent this poem because it has made me oppose a poem that opposes the bombing of children. I dislike it and think it's smug. WINNER: "Pathetic Fallacies Are Bad Science But (On reading Susanne K. Langer's Mind)"

I’ll admit, I hadn’t thought of the actual writing a poem about not-your-kid, and that adds a whole, “My brother is a poet, so he wrote us a poem, so just be cool about it,” aspect to it, which I have to assume might be a possibility IRL if it has made two adult individual pick against a poem about why you shouldn’t bomb children. So gone at #26 is Ross Gay.

#25: Lawrence Raab (repped by “Attack of the Crab Monsters”) vs. Juan Felipe Herrera (repped by “Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings”)

Lawrence Raab made the National Book Award longlist for poetry last year, but perhaps more importantly the poem that came up for him is about crab monsters, which gives me high hopes for nonsense (although Serious Poets are not known for their nonsense ways any more).
His drawn opponent for this match-up is Juan Felipe Herrera, who is current official Poet Laureate of the United States of America, and when that happened last year it was a notable appointment because we finally had ourselves a non-white (so to speak) who was the poet laureate. Sure, that is very important, no doubt about that, but it can’t be non-whites (so to speak) who have been assimilated into whiteness and that world of lizard tongue copper speak. I am not suggesting Juan Felipe Herrera is such a type, and in fact the title of his poem here sounds like he might be reading it to a class full of 3rd graders, which is fine because fuckin hey, I’d like 3rd graders to have more poetry read at them.
Lawrence Raab is not literally talking about crab monsters here though, as I guess I falsely assumed there was a B-movie equivalent of notable Important Poetry. I’m guessing maybe this is about global warming? Maybe? He goes in at the only part I didn’t actively not care about with:

It’s the old story, predictable 
as fallout – the rearrangement of molecules.

Which alone, that’s pretty great. That sounds like the type of smart but dumb shit I’d RT on twitter. But then he has to add the caveat of self-pretention:

And everyone is surprised 
and no one understands  
why each man tries to kill 
the thing he loves…

blah blah blah. I mean perhaps it’s not global warming and I’m grasping at meanings but you know what? When an average person reads an average poem, they should be expected to grasp at an average meaning, so that’s what I did. I am unimpressed by this Lawrence Raab fellow pretty goddamned hard, so even if our beloved U.S. Poet Laureate’s poem is 3rd grader drivel, that’s probably gonna be enough.
Lololol holy shit is a 3rd grader drivel poem, but that’s fine because imagine the discussions you bring up with the children, and imagine the directions you can point those four kids who actually give a fuck in, and imagine the two other kids who wouldn’t have given a fuck otherwise who now might end up finding their true path a little easier? That’s the beauty a 3rd grader drivel poem brings, and I do not say that snarkily at all, because how the fuck are we ever gonna have any different type of adult poets unless we have  a different type of 3rd grader poet? But what does my friend the academic have to say?

THE KVLT SCHOLAR'S HANTEI: "Attack of the Crab Monsters" is trivial and shitty; like, I am not even sure how legitimately it even takes the question of crab monsters, which is basic. lol oh jesus "Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings" isn't a whole hell of a lot better in that it is an awfully pat little thing but given the competition I am not even hesitating. WINNER: "Let Me Tell You What A Poem Brings"


So knocked out of our Royal Poetry Rumble at #25 is Lawrence Raab. And that wraps up today’s edition.

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