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, February 3

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: Number Seven Direct

We have begun our third week of this Royal Poetry Rumble, and half our field of 30 has already been knocked out in the following order:
#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)

I will save whatever nonsense rambling for the actual head to head battles for the most part, but it did strike me as odd that of the six names not yet drawn to do some battling, five of them are men and the other has initials as a first name which is likely a man because lolol what woman would do that weird shit? So I want to clarify that the randomization of names is done by an excel function, not by me or the kvlt scholar, and neither of us are all that interested in upholding an age-old oppressive patriarchy. But who knows, excel is made by a big fat corporate demon overlord, so perhaps it is still upholding the patriarchy despite me and the kvlt scholar’s best intentions. Perhaps instead of calling out everybody on a small individual basis, maybe the best thing to do is just smash and burn all this shit to the ground and start over. But I have digressed, before we’ve even progressed at all (which is very manly of me)…

#12: Laura Kasischke (represented by “Two Men & a Truck") vs. W.S. DiPiero (repped by “Chicago and December”)

Kasischke has already eliminated four other poets, AND HERE SHE IS DRAWN FIRST FOR TODAY. WHO WILL STOP THIS LINGUISTICAL SUPERKICKING POETTESS  WARRIOR? She is drawn against the initial dude, W.S. DiPiero, who is part of our vast field of people due to being the Ruth Lilley super duper award winner back in 2012. That’s an awful bad side of poetry-sounding name there, W.S. DiPiero.
Kasischke’s poem is Two Men & a Truck, and being she’s won so many match-ups, I actually looked her up, and she is a professor of the poesy at Michigan (which has an esteemed MFA program, no doubt). Her poem is about motherhood, and I would say if you were to give me poems about motherhood, in all likelihood (due to me being a man, and perhaps culturally privileged with the inherent and inherited comfort of the patriarchy), I’d probably like less than 7 of them. But again, Kasischke just does not fuck around. She does it, this thing called poetry.
Let me make an aside, as we are using the parallel of the professional wrestling Royal Rumble as foundation for this nonsense. In the professional wrestling, there are “hardcore” fans who tend to like the wilder, more obscure shit. Perhaps they limit themselves to older things found under all the online rocks you can turn over (if you know how), or perhaps they like today things that are beyond the mainstream, buried in small towns and strip malls and perhaps truer to the raw spirit of what theatrical wrestling is. Or perhaps they are drawn to a foreign version of it. And certainly that parallel exists in poetry as well. I know I enjoy the more raw, more obscure, more outsider poets, both in the past and now (though they can be hard to find… if you know what rocks to turn over for that, let me know in the comments). And obviously if there’s an abundance of Kasischke poetry at a major website like the Poetry Foundation, and she’s an esteemed professor at big ass fancy MFA school like the University of Michigan, she is not underground and obscure, but a part of the mainstream (albeit a mainstream of a more obscure genre in terms of overall cultural mainstream). But even in the pro wrestling, there are those who make it to the mainstream stage, and somehow they still have that fucking It, despite being absorbed (assimilated?) into the mainstream. Kasischke has displayed that same It, indefinable and mysterious and completely unteachable, in this thing. And this poem about motherhood, about a little baby in her arms who ends up being a full-grown man, one of the two with the truck in the title, it’s a fucking thing of beauty.
Now with all that rambling gibberish about mainstream and underground, and with Born Into This on my Netflix queue for tomorrow (I still get DVDs in a mailbox, like a caveman), I was amped for some nasty free verse shit like that. And visually, DiPiero’s poem seems like it might want to creep that way itself. But I don’t know, it’s an open handed slap and I’m looking for a fist. Actually that probably describes well my disdain for a lot of what is called poetry, because it’s masturbatory and open handed and not dirty enough. I don’t mean talking about pussies and dicks and empty liquor bottles but dirty with thick stains from real life. DiPiero says:

Vague fatigued promise hangs 
in the low darkened sky

and it’s easy to imagine someone working over that, tinkering with a word here or there. That doesn’t make it anything better than weak open-handed drivel that has wasted one of the limited shards of my fucked up real life though. It’s bullshit. This whole poem is full of bullshit like that, but it’s done in the kayfabe ways of acceptable poetry. It does what mainstream poetry trains you to think is good, so if you are a fan of Poetry (capital p), then this is a fine poem. “Hahaha, how could you not like this fine poem, Raven Mack? Are you a sod? An uneducated Neanderthal? This is Poetry.”
Well, fuck that, and fuck you. I am not of that demographic and I can’t sit still, when I know how raw and wild the real shit, the back roads shit, the small town strip mall shit can get, to sit here in your fancy arena of Fine Poetry and watch this mainstream bullshit go through the accepted motions and expect me not to call it out for being pretentious bullshit. If Kasischke doesn’t win, I’ll be shocked.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: The fundamental insight of "Two Men & a Truck" is that you have a child and you are everything in their life and then their world gets bigger as they do and you immediately have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the tiny world you once inhabited exclusively and these thoughts and feelings I guess get going pretty intensely by the time they are like three let alone when they are old enough to do heavy lifting on your behalf; please note I do not describe this insight as basic but instead *fundamental* because it is about as real as it gets as far as being a human or indeed probably a non-human animal although they seem to Romanticize such things less (or so we would claim about their ways). This is a good poem on a subject I have a lot of time for like a *lot* of time for. "Chicago and December" is totally fine in a totally fine usual contemporary poetry way, like you read it and there are a couple of lines or images that are nice but there's nothing that is going to stick with you, probably, and it is not even really a diss to say that because poems are as you know very hard to do good ones of. I cannot help but think however that it is a pretty significant letdown when "the great stone lions outside / monumentally pissed" turns out to be an adjective and not a verb, like it would have been tremendous for stone lions to be pissing instead of being somehow upset "by jumbo wreaths and ribbons / municipal good cheer / yoked around their heads" which doesn't even really make sense because lions like Christmas.WINNER: "Two Men & a Truck"

LAURA KASISCHKE HAS NOW ELIMINATED FIVE PEOPLE IN THIS RIDICULOUS THING. She is obviously the greatest contemporary poet on the American Earth. (And that other poem was way shittier – click the link and see – but the kvlt scholar is the good cop here, and I am the bad one. Except I’m also corrupt. And not a cop. Neither is he. Fuck cops, even poetry cops. Especially poetry cops.
Also out at #12 is W.S. DiPiero.

#11: Robin Coste Lewis (repped by “Art & Craft”) vs. Mark Wunderlich (repped by “Prayer for a Birthday”)

I vaguely remember Robin Coste Lewis having a really great poem earlier, but like a real battle royal, at this point this shit is all starting to blur together into word fragments. Mark Wunderlich has not been in this thing as of yet and is here because he was a finalist for last year’s Kingsley Tuft Award, but is probably most famous for his test given to football players.
Lewis’s poem is sad as fuck. It’s poor kid sad, but in a way that doesn’t really talk about being poor. But I can see it.
Wunderlich’s poem is very much the same type of open handed bullshit I decried in the previous match. These random dude poets are lucky they were never drawn earlier in this thing, but fuck it’s really watered down the late Royal Poetry Rumble field.

The intricacies of your world astound me.   
You flickered through the rooms where my mother dwelt, 
when I was naked and formless as a seal…

The fuck outta here with that shit.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "Art & Craft" is a sad little poem about deliberately avoiding being super good at school so as not to attract unwanted attention but it is also kind of a smug little poem making good and sure to tell us that the poet knew all of the answers at school and only got things wrong when s/he was working the results (or I guess s/he was taking a dive, rather than working, if we want to be particular about where such actions fall along the work/shoot spectrum, and we do). It is a sad, smug little poem but these are not contradictory facts and even if they were it could totally be both and we would just have to sort that out (by going "paradox? or dialectic?" and not knowing much about how either works). I reaaaallllllyyyy dislike "Prayer for a Birthday." I have no idea where this originally appeared or anything obviously but this kind of couplets-but-not-really-couplets with all kinds of shitty enjambments and just *imprecision* everywhere is what I associate with the absolute worst New Yorker poetry, like this stuff just kills me 
"You flickered through the rooms where my mother dwelt,when I was naked and formless as a seal, sensitive
to the tides of her body. I did not come too early onto land,did not emerge until my days were written
on the translucent pages of your enormous book."

woooooooooow I don't remember them all clearly enough to say this for sure but if this isn't my least-favourite one so far lol it is pretty closeWINNER: "Art & Craft"

This is all fair, in my opinion. Gone at #11 is Mark Wunderlich.

#10: Alice Notley (repped by “Poem 3”) vs. Arthur Sze (repped by “Morning Antlers”)

Man, I’m just not feeling this shit today. Such utter crap. And for our last match we have another woman vs. man, but at least this man has been present before (Arthur Sze) so I know he at least is not making his first appearance with a giant steaming pile of fetid pretentiousness.
Notley’s poem is a weird little rambler, and I like how it is repetitive in simplistic ways so it’s sort of like a freaked out stoner explaining frantically how they got lost on their way home, but without the negative connotations of straight stoner-ism. Notley’s poem suggests she is an experimentalist, but in normal looking ways. Those are the best experimental types, because they fuck you up when you’re not looking.
Sze’s poem is not experimental, and sure maybe this one is another example of predictable poetry, but he’s not so heavy with the open hand of it all. It has a nice rhythm, and though I’m not gonna flip out and go buy a couple Arthur Sze books off half.com, all things considered, in the framework of this contest, it’s not a bad poem at all. I’d lean towards Notley, but not with enough conviction to be mad about it not going that way.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: If "Poem 3" tries to impress us with its obscurity like it invented obscurity or something but it *didn't* whereas say what you will about "Morning Antlers" but it wants to say something about The Interconnectedness of All Things and wants to notice redwinged blackbirds and babies and antlers and trees.WINNER: "Morning Antlers"

Gone at #10 is Alice Notley. See, that’s quality judgment there, because though I leaned towards the other poem, if you explain to me that a thing is trying to make me notice redwinged blackbirds, I’m gonna be like, “oh, okay, I am pretty good with that.” Everybody should just write bird poetry, but not open handed weak ass bird poetry, but hard ass bird poetry. Mean vicious real life is painful as fuck but we are still going to have sex because the only hope at overcoming the painful as fuck nature of human life is to make children that somehow figure out all this dumb shit that we’ve kept screwing up. But with birds.

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