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, February 8

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: Section Eight


[Note: This was written at parts as if it was going to be posted on a Friday, but there are no deadlines in the wild, so Friday became Monday, which unfortunately is one of the harsh realities of the first world.]
So this is the Friday of our third week of this shit, and next week will be the end of it all, but before we get to next week we have to finish this week, and that means three more head-to-head match-ups betwixt drawn names from the nine remaining poets, in our… ROYAL! POETRY! RUMBLE!
lolol yeah I know that shit’s stupid. Whatever man. We’ve powered through this far, and we will force our way across the finish line. There were some real shitty poems on Wednesday, so my enthusiasm is kinda low.

#9: Arthur Sze (represented by “Stilling to North”) vs. Laura Kasischke (repped by “After Ken Burns”)

Two return customers come back in, in Arthur Sze and Laura Kasischke. Sze’s eliminated two people, and Kasischke’s knocked out five, so between the two of them they’ve killed off a third of our original field of ballyhooed poets. And Kasischke has been the top performer, not only in how many people she’s beat, but also that “Mushrooms” poem is still the highest high spot thus far.
Sze’s poem is cool I guess. I mean it’s very obviously poetry, and I feel like it might be acting all clever and cryptic and responding to things in Arthur’s own memory banks, but I find myself not as interested as he is in what is going on here. Maybe me and Arthur should’ve done acid together in a hotel first.
Kasischke’s poem, as expected, fucks shit up pretty quickly and with earthy authority…

This river, which is life, which is wayfaring.

Yeah. I can’t say this project has made me love contemporary poetry much more than I already barely tolerated it, but if I was forced at gunpoint to worship at the ivory altar of Big Poetry, Laura Kasischke would be my hero.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: By being about compasses sort of "Stilling to North" declares that it is about to be pretty serious (compasses are serious even the ones that are little and go on your key chain and have maybe a small thermometre on them too); I also like that there is a small soapstone bear as I was admiring soapstone sculptures just today at the art gallery because I am a man of taste and learning. And there is a meandering jaguar here, and poplar branches, and the spaces between branches, so as you can see the list of things that you could definitely have a good poem with is not insignificant here but I am not sure what we have in the end here is equal to the sum of its parts maybe? "After Ken Burns" tries to go way up and out at the end (she opens [what choice does she have?] although she has not yet been born) which is a solid move but on the whole the piece does not in my view manage to transcend the damning invocation of Ken Burns who while a fine documentarian (I have only ever seen the Baseball one) is also this weird nostalgia gnome who does not put me in the way of poesy. Which is probably wrongheaded as well as unkind, because Ken Burns probably likes poems. WINNER: "Stilling to North"

KASISCHKE DOWN! KASISCHKE DOWN! (But it was a solid run she had, and even her defeat was honorable.) Out at #9 is Laura Kasischke.

#8: Emily Fragos (repped by “Nemesis”) vs. Patrick Phillips (repped by “Elegy with Oil in the Bilge”)

Fragos has appeared before but this is Patrick Phillips first time into our competition, here because he was upon the shortlist for the National Book Award for poesy. Fragos, however, comes the fuck out the gate with a bomb of a poem, and maybe my personal favorite other that “Mushrooms”. (The kvlt scholar may disagree though.) First off, her poem is about the queen of hearts as some old dudes play cards. I have written extensively (though secretively, and unseen publicly) about decks of cards doing battle, inspired by Townes Van Zandt’s “Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold” song (amazing song). But the great thing about this Fragos poem is not only is it about a face card during a gambling scenario, but she has an imagined character singing in italics, which to me conjures up thoughts of it being part of a Grateful Dead song, not like recorded but live, which might have been triggered as a fantasy memory after mentioning how I should’ve done acid with Arthur Sze. But who cares what caused it? The trigger of this poem here has made me think of pleasant things, perhaps not pleasant to the world but certainly dirtgod approved, and it conjures up more memories very personal and dear to me than I care to even mention to you through the soulless copper-veined cybertronic interwebs. But this pome by this Emily Fragos makes me have feelings.
And this Patrick Phillips poem is one of steering a shitty motorboat through some memories, and it also has dirtgod appeal, though not to the extent of “Nemesis”. But this match-up certainly gives me hope that not all contemporary poets are complete assholes.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: I think "Nemesis" is a poem that builds to one thing that is supposed to be haunting, and I am totally willing to be haunted pretty much whenever, but I am somewhat unhaunted at present if I may be blunt about how haunted I am from this. "Elegy with Oil in the Bilge" is tough and sad and fvkkn *real* and I like how many times it says "water" and I think this poem might actually be a kind of minor triumph (over everything). WINNER: "Elegy with Oil in the Bilge"

Eliminated at #8 Emily Fragos.

#7: Gregory Pardlo (repped by “Epistemology of the Phone Booth”) vs. Joy Harjo (repped by “Deer Dancer”)

I remember reading about Gregory Pardlo when he won the Pulitzer for poetry last year, and he seemed real as fuck. He is actually reading at a local book festival this spring, one in which I recently (since we started this thing) searched their horribly laid out website to see if any of these poets were coming to my town. Only Pardlo is, and I will probably try to check him out, because real as fuck poets (if this is true) don’t get supported by Big Poetry all the time, so it’s important to fill the arenas and justify Big Poetry allowing flecks of plebian blood to pollute their cocktail parties.
And Joy Harjo has been in this thing, and eliminated a couple people already I think. So between the first pairs of poems and this potential match-up, my Friday expedition into this project has gained back some confidence after Wednesday’s doldrums.
I… I… I don’t even know where to begin with this Gregory Pardlo poem. Not only is it an amazing fucking piece of poetry, where the act of phone sex teasing is somehow made beautiful but twisted still, but it displays such a deep, working knowledge of phone booths that I can’t help but affirmed in my last year thoughts that Pardlo is real as fuck. You do not say things like:

Clack’d the splendid tongue 
and bloom!

unless you are real as fuck, and understand the inner-workings of dropping coins into pay phone, and being excited about sexually-related voices on the other side, and weave all these knowings together but not just saying it with words but tweaking that shit, backflip off the top rope, spin kick to the fucking brain. This is fucking great, and I honestly don’t see how Joy Harjo stands a chance.
Like, I want to quote other shit from this poem but it’s best to just leave it as is and you should definitely click the readable link above even if you haven’t made a habit of doing such through this whole thing.

I will tell you though, this Joy Harjo poem is pretty damn great too.  
The bar of broken survivors, the club of the shotgun, knife wound, of 
poison by culture. We who were taught not to stare drank our beer.

And the whole thing is nothing but beautiful in dirtgods and dirtgoddesses ways, and this poem would be almost any other poem we’ve had in this godforsaken competition, but really the way Pardlo turns degenerate nonsense into such beautiful words, that’s what poetry is supposed to be. Which is not to say that what Harjo does here is not what poetry should be either, it’s just that he fucking nails it, with force, and all she does is nail it (which is nearly impossible it seems when you evaluate what we’ve gone through thus far).

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: Is "Epistemology of the Phone Booth" like a belated beatnik holy bum kind of situation? I like beatnik holy bums and their poems often very much so to categorize this poem thus (maybe wrongly, who am I, what do I know) is not to diminish it but in this case I am unmoved by its moment. "Deer Dancer" is a lurid scene set aloft on the viewless wings of poesy and then he's like "I wasn't there" and you are like lol ok then what the hekk just happened here in this poem and while you are dealing with that he is like "I imagined her like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left" and it is like haha we just got poesied half to death is what happened here. WINNER: "Deer Dancer"

NOOOOOOOOO! But this is how it goes with Royal Poetry Rumbles. Out at #7 is Gregory Pardlo.

We are down to our final six: Bobby C. Rogers and Frank Bidart (neither of whom has even been drawn into the fray as of yet), Patrick Phillips (who has eliminated one person, only just now), Robin Coste Lewis (eliminated two), and Arthur Sze and Joy Harjo (knocked out three apiece).

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