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 25

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: The Third Act


Thus we begin the second week (and 4th day) of this here internetty nonsense Royal Poetry Rumble. To basically recap, 30 active, living, and mostly American (since they won prominent American awards in the poesy) poets compete in a Royal Rumble style battle to crown the poet who wins this internetty nonsense thing. Here is who has been eliminated (and by whom) so far…
#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)
So eleven names drawn – nineteen remaining undrawn (and thus perhaps mysterious, although if you were a complete dork you could look at the intro and figure out who they all were probably), and six eliminated. Now, as the King of Cartoons used to proclaim, “Let The Poetry Begin!”

#24: Amy Gerstler (represented by “Bon Courage”) vs. Angie Estes (repped by “Almost Autumn”)

Amy Gerstler’s name is randomized next, and she was on listed upon the longer list for the National Book Award for bomb ass poetry calendar season, but she didn’t get any further than that. She is drawn against Angie Estes here, who already eliminated some other poet on the first day of this thing. Estes came hard that round, so I guess I sort of expect good things here, I mean as much as one can expect conducting such a ridiculous thing as this.
Gerstler’s poem starts immediately with:

Why are the woods so alluring?

and I am like, “Welp, game over.” In fact, I’m not even gonna fuck with the rest of her poem because on the woodlands strength of those six words alone, I’ve personally decided that Angie Estes has to establish herself in order to even counter what might could possibly fucking happen in the rest of Gerstler’s poem.
Estes’ poem starts in straight technically precise fiftysomething white lady poetry strong style. There is a “seam of remembered light” and mention of “pecan blossoms streaked the air” and it all makes me feel very much reminded of being in 8th grade and barely paying attention to Mrs. Simpson teach poetry. Mrs. Simpson ended up being the state of Virginia’s poet laureate at one point, and she was very encouraging to a young somewhat delinquent dirtgod, but our worlds still feel very different, even though they were situated in the same rural Virginia county. She was from Earth and I was from subterranean trash people cave Earth. Mrs. Simpson was published in the Virginia Quarterly Review. When you google up the people in charge of that now it is also composed (seemingly) of people trending towards fiftysomething white lady poetry in the coming decade. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with fiftysomething white lady poetry, because it’s certainly better than fiftysomething professor white dude poetry, at least a baby step in a right (left?) direction, but it’s still just a baby step. It is like suggesting an expensive curated boutique of select antique crap is better than a Wal-Mart, meaning it’s a false positive.
And sure enough, Estes says:

…I still think God may be  
holding up the hem of his gown as he reaches…

So she affirms traditional God belief, but makes the baby step of non-traditional by suggesting He wears a gown. This is SHOCKING to traditionalists, but to me, who imagines god not as human form but actually an orgy of animals and plants and rocks and minerals all under the star shine, it is like, not really anything at all. And I guess I’m being mean, because I have no problem with this poem whatsoever, other than it has all the hallmarks strong style strikes of poesy I’d expect when anticipating fiftysomething white lady poetry. But hey, that style poetry might not impress random internet fuckface #69 (that’s me), but it certainly is a better path towards vast Serious Poetry industry success. But this poem did nothing to counter the sexy promise of Amy Gerstler’s first line.
And yeah, Gerstler crushes me with multiple phrases (including “the skillet” – always a scoring word in my book), and swerves this tale of a young girl in the forest by making it about the forest, not the girl:

A certain euphoria sets in. She feels molecular.

Really, the Gerstler poem does not let up throughout, and though Gerstler may very well swerve her way into fiftysomething white lady poetry at some point, this “Bon Courage” here is a punisher that would make the granddaughter of Margaret Atwood’s Susanna Moodie proud. THERE IS NO FUCKING WAY ANYBODY COULD SEE THIS POEM AS INFERIOR TO “Almost Autumn”, NO FUCKING WAY!

THE KVLT SCHOLAR'S HANTEI: I was *just* talking about young girls aligned with the woods through Girl Guiding (Girl Scouting, I believe, in Amerikkka) against the forces that would oppose woods and the next poem I see is "Bon Courage" which asks "Why are the woods alluring?" and then makes them pretty much as alluring in this poem as they are in the actual woods; one's thoughts turn to the C.S. Lewis thing about how you don't think less of real woods because you've read of enchanted woods, but instead the reading makes all woods at least a little enchanted; and then they turn to how C.S. Lewis was enormously right about a lot of things, including at times girls in the woods, but had some dark things about young women and also that weird ape at the end of those books and the whole thing is in the end an important lesson for children about both the literary imagination and its failures. This poem is really great, whereas "Almost Autumn" says "So many stars to touch on the iPad of the night," and while it gets better than that, too, it does not really overcome that that is something it said one time.
WINNER: "Bon Courage"

Well, thank goodness for that decisions. Thus, eliminated at #24 is Angie Estes.

#23: Dennis O’ Driscoll (repped by “Experimental Animals”) vs. Ada Limon (repped by “What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use”)

O’Driscoll steps to the ring, with the 2012 Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Poetry strapped around his waist. This title is seventeen pounds of medieval gold with silver inlays displaying images of ancient poets wrestling while naked for a quill pen made from slave bone ivory (plus blood ink probably… most of the great epics from before the 1700s were written in some sort of animal blood, just as the U.S. Constitution was). His opposition in this match-up will be Ada Limon, who made the National Book Award shortlist for poetry, but came up short. O’Driscoll does not give a fuck about that though. He comes with “Experimental Animals”:

It’s much cushier when it’s raining rabbits 
than cat and dogs. The animals for experiment 
should not betray too much intelligence.

And I will not say this piece of the entire poem is all that wonderful, but I am personally a man who has had positions in animal research (shamefully – well, not really shame involved because we all do what we must do as we navigate this strange human existence) and I am perhaps reading this poem with some knowledge of this in my background mentally. I also have had hella farm animals, including pigs, who were raised purely to get hauled off to this weird fat dude who had a slaughterhouse behind his house (officially inspected, according to a piece of laminated paper on the wall), to get shot in the head and sliced into various portions for my family to motherfucking eat. Last pigs we had, I did a lot of enrichment for them, weird shit I learned from having a job in animal research, where you try to morally justify your immoral behavior through strange crap like giving pigs a bowling ball because they like playing with it. As we loaded that last pair of pigs to go to the butcher guy, one of them – the more enriched one – looked at me, like “wtf bro?” And I will not say that alone haunted me into not raising more pigs, and in fact I don’t even eat pork any more (been reading too much old Islamic metaphysical shit I think), because it’s more of a situation where I realized genetically pigs are too close to people (which is why pig hearts are accepted by human bodies). But what I’m saying is even though this “Experimental Animals” does not knock my fucking guts into a fuck yeah flutter with the actual words, what is being said, in poetic style, does pluck at my brain fairly well. And there is something to be said for that.
Well fuck it all if the Ada Limon poem is not equally great in similar ways which also pluck at my having read too much Islamic metaphysics recently, and blurring the line between not believing in god because everything is unified in being matter, but then well maybe that’s some fucked up vision of God, and then the narrator of the poem and their friend both lay back and look at clouds, and you know what? I am motherfucking down with looking at clouds; like I ride around with a shitty digital camera in my lap sometimes just to snap quick shots of the sky when the clouds aren’t expecting it and I catch them naked and lascivious and sexy as fuck. I am glad I don’t have to pick between these two, though if I had to, Limon’s use of “obsidian shards” would probably make me pick against her, because that sounds too much like some shit a poet would say.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR'S HANTEI: I will not carry on as though "Experimental Animals" with its thoughtful and careful consideration of the killing of piglets speaks to my direct experience as I have never had to kill one even a little but there is pig farming in my family and my Mom tells a nice story (she tells almost no stories) about putting the piglets in a little basket on the edge of the open stove door to keep them warm; the last stanza of this poem is about as good as it gets probably. Holy shit for the first time this is really tough because "What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use" is so good, especially the part that goes "J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said, No. I believe in this connection we all have to nature, to each other, to the universe. And she said, Yeah, God." but also other parts too. Jesus christ what do I do nooooooooo ok I am going with "Experimental Animals" but "What it Looks Like" is better than a lot of the winners so far, even the best ones, and if there is some sort of repechage I would want it to fight its way back noooooooo am I doing the right thiiiiiiiingWINNER: "Experimental Animals"


Eliminated at #23 is Ada Limon, though both I and the kvlt scholar would agree Limon came harder than any loser to this point thus far.

#22: Laura Kasischke (repped by “The Game”) vs. Rowan Ricardo Phillips (repped by “The Beatitudes of Malibu”)

Laura Kasischke already eliminated Terrance Hayes last week, so this is not her first time into this chaos of the Royal Poetry Rumble. This time though she has been drawn up against Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who made the National Book Award longlist for poetry last year.
Kasischke’s poem is something else, because in the beginning I am thinking, “Oh, okay, she is chilling on a nature outing with her mom but her mom got poisoned by nature – either bees or a snake – but the young Laura Kasischke narrator of poem character doesn’t realize this.” But then, the descriptions go into chaos, most notably with this stanza:

How sweet 
the eye socket. The spine. The 
curious, distant possibility that God 
had given courage 
to human beings 
that we might 
suffer a little longer.

And then you realize, by the end, a lot of shit happened, which created darkness in a motherfucker’s memory bank. A lot of times that seems to be the point of good poetry, to light a match to try and find a few steps out of the darkness of our collective motherfucker’s memory bank.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips’ poem is called “The Beatitudes of Malibu” which unfortunately just makes me think of that Saturday Night Live skit, which unfortunately makes me think of Fred Armisen, who unfortunately I can’t really stand at this point because despite his early comedic strangeness I can’t help but worry he is a misanthropic abuser of womenfolk, albeit in the confusing methods of progressive patriarchy. So unfortunately, my brain is reading this poem in Fred Armisen pretending to be a poet voice. And unfortunately nothing in this “The Beatitudes of Malibu” really happens to pull me out of my brain’s decision to sound like Fred Armisen skit voice, so mostly I just end up thinking this poem is a(nother) shitty overrated Portlandia sketch that somebody’s gonna pretend to me is really brilliant.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR'S HANTEI: "The Game" continues a fine and somewhat kvlt run of forest poesy we kind of have taking shape here a little and has literally no problem with "The Beatitudes of Malibu," which is false, and shit.WINNER:  "The Game"


Oh good, me and the kvlt scholar were entirely on the same poetic vibrations today. And Rowan Ricardo Phillips was eliminated at #22.

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