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 1

2016 Royal Poetry Rumble: The Sixth Part

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)

By the end of this week, we will have eliminated another 9 poets, leaving the final six for next week’s last week. Eight names have yet to even be pulled from the excel spreadsheet hat. WHO WILL START US OUT TODAY?

#15: Juan Felipe Herrera (represented by “Tomorrow I Leave To El Paso, Texas”) vs. Joy Harjo (repped by “Equinox”)

Our beloved poet laureate, who has already knocked out two competitors, with not even the most outstanding poems on his part, stumbles back into the ring for this first encounter of today’s non-festitivies. He faces Joy Harjo, who also has eliminated a person previously, but only one.
Herrera works quick, and there seems to be a theme of working through memories for this man who is our U.S. poet laureate, and this thing about leaving El Paso, TX, is no different, and I enjoy it but it is short and I don’t really love it because I do not feel filled up by it but it’s a nice appetizer and I guess poetry couldn’t always be grand buffets of wild game and sometimes has to be a side order of veggie dumplings from the Afghan spot, and I’m gonna have to be okay with that. It feels alright.
But then holy fuck, Joy Harjo’s poem is a feast of wild game, thick shit-talking in the mode of shit-talking that poetic types do, but beyond the self-awareness of “Hey! I’m doing poetry!” to some serious ass shit. I was contemplating quoting a couple lines (as I have done previously in these things) but it’s hard to separate any of it – it’s all too thickly muscled together. But she certainly is not fucking around here, and it kinda makes a cute little dumpling of a poem seem weak in comparison.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: I admire the boldness that lies at the heart of "Tomorrow I Leave To El Paso, Texas" in that it the mere mention of El Paso cannot help but invoke the deep poesy of the Marty Robbins piece that just fvkkn owns El Paso forever; through no real fault of its own, though, it falls far short of "Equinox," which, in addition to its other virtues, is demonstrably kvlt. Like it goes from "I will find myself with a war club in my hand / and the smoke of grief staggering toward the sun, / your nation dead beside you" to "from each drop of blood / springs up sons and daughters, trees, / a mountain of sorrows, of songs" to "Geese are returning to mate and crocuses have / broken through the frozen earth" to "I have buried the dead / and made songs of the blood, the marrow" and those are just tremendous things for poems to say and also call to mind some of the best parts of Margaret Atwood's "Journals of Susanna Moodie" which is maybe the best single poetry collection in English in the 1970s (come at me).WINNER: "Equinox"

Yeah. So Juan Felipe Herrera goes down at #15.

#14: Jane Hirshfield (repped by “A Person Protests to Fate”) vs. Robin Coste Lewis (repped by “The Mothers”)

Oh hai look, two of the undrawn eight names remaining have been pulled here, and we have Jane Hirshfield (a long-lister for the National Book Award for poetry last year) going up against Robin Coste Lewis (winner of the National Book Award for poetry last year). Perhaps this a grudge match over the National Book Award, and Robin Coste Lewis ultimately will have her award (it’s a literal award, like a 4-foot tall trophy with ribbons and shit, right?) ringside, and you just know Hirshfield is gonna end up smashing Lewis with the trophy.
I kinda want to like what Hirshfield does in her poem, but what she describes as being “during the long middle” is like a thousand degrees different than my IRL experiences, so I’m put off to be honest, and imagine Jane Hirshfield would feel a lot more comfortable trying to find a list of only four items in your average Whole Foods than me. I bet she might even peruse other things, and end up with more than four, unlike me who will abandon mission before finding the third and after navigating the complicated aisles and parking lot, would force myself to drive behind the old strip mall with the K-Mart just to catch a glimpse of the homeless camp in the woods and feel a little more at ease.
Holy shit, Robin Coste Lewis fuckin’ knocks this one out. This “The Mothers” is fire, left and right, and yet also short, so a quick piledriver of poetry. Women in a kitchen, sharing a job or duties or what? I don’t know, but they are chill:

And democratic. A Lucky Strike each, we 
Sponge each other off, while what’s grayed 
In and gray slinks ashamed down the drain.

And then their “fingers garnished with fumes of onions and garlic” and the other woman is reattaching stockings to a garter, all while working, and despite our shitty lots in life, we are still sexual, and fuck man this so-called civilized life is repressive as shit, isn’t it? I mean, what the fuck are we doing here?

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "A Person Protests to Fate" is a good title and concept however to even want to train a cat to stay off a table is not only the merest folly but betrays deeper troubles as well. First, on folly: even if you can convince a cat that it is a better idea to not be on a table when you can see the cat doing that, do you really think that is going to keep a cat off a table when you're not there? Most of the time you are not going to be close enough to the table to make sure the cat is not involved in its situation, right? So how could this ever be meaningfully enforced? But to the much darker heart of the matter I would ask: why do you necessarily even want this? If you have a cat, you know that they are really very clean animals, but that, like the rest of us, sometimes it will put its butt on things; you accept that and build a life together. Why are you so afraid to be known, is I guess the question here really. I don't like "the penmanships love practices inside the body" aaaaat allllll either so let's see who gets the easy win here . . . ok it is "The Mothers" which is dedicated in part to Gwendolyn Brooks which is a pretty legit dedication, let's see where this goes. Yeah ok the image at the end where it goes "martyred / Rubber moons wavering at her garter" reveals this to be good enough to defeat far greater foes than it has been asked to contend with here.WINNER: "The Mothers"

I was really afraid there would be a difference of opinion there for a second, so I am glad the kvlt scholar shares similar sensibilities as me, which I might even consider calling universal sensibilities. So gone at #14 is Jane Hirshfield.

#13: Amy Gerstler (repped by “Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup”) vs. Laura Kasischke (repped by “Mushrooms”)

Both these women have battled in this Royal Poetry Rumble so far, but Gerstler only once. Laura Kasischke has knocked three other people out of this thing already, so despite being randomized by excel random number function at a fairly high rate, she has been fucking people up thus far. Preconceptions about a poem called “Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup” certainly don’t have me questioning whether she’ll do it yet again either.
This fruit cocktail poem is weird because Gerstler’s basically riffing on “lol weird foods from my youth” but then gets stuck on the fruit cocktail, and I think of my own 12-year-old daughter who has a strange affinity for shit like fruit cocktails, and her own inherent sadness (she is perfect in her own way) and then Gerstler’s poem’s narrator’s dad is wadding up old newspapers and lighting a fire, and fuck man we heat our old ass farmhouse with a woodstove, and though I don’t have strong feelings positive or negative about this fruit cocktail poem, it’s made me feel pretty goddamned melancholy and introspective too near a fault.

…masquerading as happy 
appetizer, fruit cocktail insisted on pretending 
everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced 
tastelessness. It meant you were easily fooled.

NO YOU! (She is speaking dark fears inside my paternal head, so fuck this shit, I don’t have time for this so early in another mundane work week.)
Thank the Universal Magnetics that Laura Kasischke’s poem “Mushrooms” was next, because it’s probably not just the best poem in this fucking thing so far but I would be tempted to tattoo this shit in its entirely (maybe not the last stanza) on my thigh. Scope the supreme math of this first stanza:

Like silent naked monks huddled 
around an old tree stump, having 
spun themselves in the night 
out of thought and nothingness –

Fucking knock out right there.

THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: I reject the premise of "Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup" because fruit cocktail in light syrup is good; it's just a good food that you can get from the store to have sometimes. The kind with fake sugars in them are beyond foul so don't get those, but beyond that, the notion that eating fruit cocktail meant "you might deny / that ghosts whirled throughout the house" is demonstrably bullshit because I would eat fruit cocktail right now if it were here and then talk to you about ghosts as seriously as you were willing to. Also it is worth noting that in addition to being a completely replacement-level sentiment, "harkening back to days /when humans grew, rather than manufactured, / food" is, like the rest of this one, just fvkkn prose, man, it's *prose*, and I like my poesy like I like my license: poetic as SHIT. "Mushrooms" is the complete opposite thing, a full-on poesy poem, treating mushrooms like monks (and, implicitly, monks like mushrooms) and hitting you with a jarring haiku-esuque juxtaposition at the end; this is a killer. I initially wrote "haku-esque" by mistake and that is not far off the mark in that were this poem to take human shape for a literal, non-poetic Royal Rumble, it might well turn into a Tongan rightly feared by all.WINNER: "Mushrooms"

No doubt. So not only is Laura Kasischke steady knocking fools out of this thing (four now) but she's doing it with the motherfuckin' poetic authority. Out at #16: Amy Gerstler. SEE YOU WEDNESDAY MORNING, RANDOM DISCOVERERS PLUS PERHAPS REGULAR FOLLOWERS (by now) OF POETICALLY-BASED INTERNETTING NONSENSE.

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