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, February 19

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: THE FINALE

Well here we are in our grand finale, of this thing. We’ve (meaning me and the kvlt scholar) read a lot of poems, been exposed to people we hadn’t heard of before, been unimpressed by a lot of it, but also knocked the fuck away by some of it, specifically Laura Kasischke. She eliminated five people before being eliminated herself a couple days back. But both our finalists here today have knocked out four other people themselves, so whoever wins will equal that high watermark. The question is, will they equal the high moment of that mushroom poem by Kasischke?
Doesn’t really matter, because the format is today’s winner is the Royal Poetry Rumble winner.

GRAND FINALE: Joy Harjo (represented by “Perhaps the World Ends Here”) vs. Arthur Sze (represented by “The Shapes of Leaves”)

Harjo didn’t come in until the second week, but knocked out almost one person per installment the past six. Looking back on her previous entries (“She Had Some Horses”, “Equinox”, “Deer Dancer”, and “Eagle Poem”), I remember really disliking the horse poem, but a couple of the others fell into that not-hate-but-don’t-love area (which to be honest is about the best space to be in, in this competition it seems… sort of like hiding out next to the turnbuckle while all the major action happens elsewhere). This kitchen table poem is not really different. It feels like journal notes that might end up being a new Lucinda Williams song given a little time. But it also feels unfinished, and not so much in the sense the poem itself needs to be worked on. I guess for me, I expect a certain knock-out moment from a poem, either in the work as a whole, or at least little phrases fucking tap you in the pineal gland hard as fuck. Nothing here did this. And when I’m wavering on a thing, and a line like “Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children,” I have a hard time swallowing that.
And you see, that’s the thing (in my humble but perhaps self-important opinion) about good poesy – it can overcome mis-steps and corny ass phrasings because you can fuck the reader up two lines down with something just straight sikk. Harjo doesn’t fire back with that. So despite this being our finale, I am left feeling underwhelmed with her entry.
Arthur Sze also has knocked four folks out even though he didn’t enter the ring until near the halfway mark. His poem suffers from pretty much the exact same problems as the Harjo poem, although he does not quite reach as high anywhere, he also does not come off as corny as that coffee hugging our children line either. Ultimately, I am underwhelmed by this as well. Neither of these poems feel urgent to me, and I think that ends up being my problem with Big Poetry – lack of urgency. Perhaps this is the result of the wealth needed to explore a life as a poetry writer, or to obtain an MFA in the first place (which seems to be required to be a Big Poetry poet), and with that level of comfort comes lack of urgency. I’m sure poets in that realm would tell you how hard they struggle, how little money they make, but a term I’ve used a lot in my own personal life in recent years (as the unacknowledged continuing recession continues) is Nouveau Poor – the newly “poor” who still have access to a good safety net, but because they don’t have those high-paying gigs to keep from skimming their own interest or dividends, they think they are poor. There is a big difference between having no money with lot of safety net and even a little money with no safety net. A big difference, one so big it doesn’t make sense to demean it by capitalizing it as we do Big Poetry, because those types of Bigs are organized and manufactured. You do not manufacture shit when you are in the big difference of actual poverty. You are struggling.
The beautiful thing is though, if you are struggling, and feel the urge to create shit, many times those creations are fucking beautiful as fuck, because your moment to do such creative work is probably pretty fleeting. There is an urgency, so you fucking do it.
Neither of these poems feel like they Fucking Had To Be Done, and yet they were done, and they are on major poetry websites (lolol) as exemplary of these poets’ work.
I don’t know. Let’s go to the judge’s table:

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: I know pretty much everything has seemed like at least a *little* bit of a letdown after the mushroom poem -- and I don't just mean the rest of the poems in this Rumble but in fact many other unrelated things as well (although what, one might ask, does not in some way relate to the mushroom poem) -- but man we are really limping towards the finish here, aren't we? It is not my wish to be unkind here, and these are far from the worst instances of poesy we have sen thus far certainly but at the same time there were poems eliminated in the early going that would have made short work of either "Perhaps the World Ends Here" with its largely understandable but arguably slightly overwrought approach to kitchen tables or "The Shapes of Leaves" which for some reason cannot content itself to be about the shapes of leaves but instead some guy. Maybe the most fitting result would be a simultaneous elimination like in 1994 with Lex Luger (who fought on behalf of both Amerikkka and Flexing) and Bret Hart (representing Her Majesty the Queen and also Holds) or maybe more appropriately like when John Cena and Big Dave Batista completely blew the finish in 2005 and both went over the top in a big dumb indistinct (aside from their abs etc) heap and Vince McMahon stormed down the aisle and entered the ring with such fury that he blew out a quad and couldn't stand so he just sat in the corner with his legs out in front of him like history's worst infant and was like WELL IT ISN'T A SHOOT ROYAL RUMBLE JUST FVKKN DO IT AGAIN but the 2016 Poetry Royal Rumble *is* a shoot Royal Rumble and we are not just going to fvkkn do it again but instead declare the winner to be (lol I read these twice this time; this is how seriously I take my duties here Raven/Dear Reader) "Perhaps the World Ends Here" because even if it is kind of a mess it is about how the poet is thinking seriously about kitchen tables in a way that I am not at all sure the poet of "The Shapes of Leaves" is thinking about the shapes as leaves *qua* the shapes of leaves as the philosophers might say (I don't know any philosophy). WINNER: "Perhaps the World Ends Here"

So Joy Harjo has won it. Here is a picture of her:
The crazy hand tattoo on her writing hand (which I knew not about until I googled a picture of her for the very first time just now) makes me feel better about her winning. It is a sign of beautiful madness I think.

So in the off chance you want to relive the memories, here is all that happened, but you can obviously click the Royal Poetry Rumble tag below this post because this is the internet and everything is connected (to a snitch)…
#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)
#18: Marie Ponsot (eliminated by Juan Felipe Herrera)
#17: Nathaniel Mackey (eliminated by Alice Notley)
#16: Claudia Rankine (eliminated by Arthur Sze)
#15: Juan Felipe Herrera (eliminated by Joy Harjo)
#14: Jane Hirshfield (eliminated by Robin Coste Lewis)
#13: Amy Gerstler (eliminated by Laura Kasischke)
#12: W.S. DiPiero (eliminated by Laura Kasischke)
#11: Mark Wunderlich (eliminated by Robin Coste Lewis)
#10: Alice Notley (eliminated by Arthur Sze)
#9: Laura Kasischke (eliminated by Arthur Sze)
#8: Emily Fragos (eliminated by Patrick Phillips)
#7: Gregory Pardlo (eliminated by Joy Harjo)
#6: Robin Coste Lewis (eliminated by Bobby C. Rogers)
#5: Frank Bidart (eliminated by Patrick Phillips)
#4: Bobby C. Rogers (eliminated by Arthur Sze)
#3: Patrick Phillips (eliminated by Joy Harjo)
#2: Arthur Sze (eliminated by Joy Harjo)
leaving Joy Harjo our 2016 Royal Poetry Rumble champion. Congratulations poetry lady (who will probably never see this). You should be proud.

And please, SUPPORT POETRY. It's the only way we keep the assholes from owning it completely.

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