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.

Tuesday, February 14

2017 Royal Poetry Rumble: The First Part


#30: Jennifer Moxley (represented by The Atrophy of Private Life) vs. Daniel Borzutzky (repped by The Book of Equality)

Jennifer Moxley was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts award calendar year 2016. She did not win the award but yes, finalism is high honor as well. Daniel Borzutzky the winner of the National Book Award for poetry last year, for his collection The Performance of Becoming Human. I hate to include mention of actual works because that cheapens this to a consumeristic affair, so let me clarify, should you be interested in any of these poets, please check them out from nearest university library (the Official Home of Academic Poetry) or buy used copies of their books. Fuck new stuff. And with that in mind I also encourage you to explore the ancient poesies if you have not. My personal perspective is there ain’t shit going on right now getting anywhere near those old Persian mystics or Chinese hermits or Scandinavian epics. But perhaps I am an old fool from the old school. Let’s get to this new-fangled poetry…
The content and flow of Moxley’s poem speaks to me strongly, about how soulless and fake our currently curated public (social media?) lives are, ending with poetic piledriver (still illegal in Tennessee) of:
And sometimes, to cultivate a single new thought, you need not only silence but an entirely new life.
And yet, I struggle with this technically being a poem because it is written like prose. Should I enforce strict delineations? Ultimately does it matter? Is this a wolf or coyote or perhaps coywolf? Why do we Gregor Mendel-fy all our culture so strictly? Mayhaps that’s part of the problem, too.
Interestingly enough, Borzutzky’s poem also is more likely prose and also is attempting to point out the façade of our modern (post-?, post-post-?) existence, except Mr. Borzutsky does it in a much more heavy-handed and corny ass way. I bet he’s got an MFA from a highly touted program that doesn’t even need to advertise in Poets and Writers magazine. Here, let me google it… Well, the internet says he is of Chilean heritage but grew up in Pittsburgh, with an obviously Polish last name, so Polish-Chilean is a hardscrabble genetic mix, no doubt, so I will not disparage the man any further as he seems of honest intent. That does not change my personal dissatisfaction with the effect he is attempting here.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "The Atrophy of Private Life" is probably right that there are things that you could say in a poem about how heavy those fashion magazines always are (or if not always, often) but I am completely convinced that none of the things here are thing that you should say about fashion magazines in a poem. "Arousal follows" as a complete sentence is ludicrous and has great potential as ludicrous but I don't think it is supposed to be ludicrous here and that's worrying. "The Book of Equality" though is among the smuggest works of anything any of us will ever encounter, and formally it is even less than that, just a block of undifferentiated prose brimming with half-ideas but not the suggestive halves of ideas but the back-halves of ideas, the settled parts; just nothing. These fvvvkkkkknnnnn prose poems, man. You pretty much have to be Anne Carson to do one of these and actually make it poesy and that is too much to ask of anyone else living and few who are dead. A grim beginning to what I am sure will prove to be, in the fullness of time, a sikk excercise.     
WINNER: "The Atrophy of Private Life"
Thus, out at #30 is Daniel Borzutzky.

#29: Monica Youn (repped by A Parking Lot in West Houston) vs. Rita Dove (repped by Trans —)

Monica Youn was a National Book Award for poesy long-lister, and Rita Dove was the same except she made the short list. Dove is also prominent faculty at the MAJOR PUBLIC IVY UNIVERSITY I am situated near, and whose library I regularly loot for intellectual fodder. (My soul is thirsty, what can I say?) In fact, they recently opened some hotel near the university which is some sort of new-fangled capitalistic angle on hoteling where it is tied to local college in theme, and this particular one has a mural on the most prominently exposed wall with quote from a Rita Dove poem. Sadly, as wonderful as all that sounds – mural, poetry, university – it all adds up to a rather humdrum end effect too obviously just a capitalistic patronizing ploy to intellectual progressiveness. But fuck man, they keep building more and more fancy hotels for fancy college people, even though I have no idea how there are even that many fancy college people in existence, much less traveling here regularly. I think there might be an entirely other class of enriched humans that exist on completely different physical plane than myself, to be honest.
Youn comes out the fuckin’ gate hard, perhaps because previous two poems prosed me the fuck out, with this two-line combo (with impeccable poetic line break to highlight strength of fuckin’ word power, imo):
Angels are unthinkable
in hot weather
And to be honest she does not slow down, perhaps not hitting such a high until in the culminating turn of phrase about her car “half-sunk/in the tar pit of its own shadow” and I am firmly like, “Yes! Monica Youn, it is hot as fuck and shit is fucked, and what the fuck can we do other than write poetry to make ourselves feel better as we melt into the Earth like the earlier dinosaurs?”
Dove’s poem is short and feels like perhaps it is speaking to a generation previous to my own. (I am 44, today actually.) I don’t know – some poetry feels like it is supposed to be smart without actually being smart, yet it does everything it needs to do to make the claim. I guess that is also how I feel about this University of Virginia, so perhaps she is product of having been fermented in this particular crock for too long. I don’t know; I do not want to be mean, but I was left feeling like I was told this was great by brain standards without it actually delivering any punch whatsoever to my heart.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: It is important to think about angels, even if you are only going to bring them up for a second and move onto other things, and I am glad that this poet has chosen to do so. If you cannot give a credible account of where and how angels hold their place in the divine economy I have serious doubts about how committed anyone can truly be to the cause of poesy broadly, and I do not say that because adherence to an Abrahamic faith is a prerequisite for the poetic (far far from it obviously) but the serious student of poetry in English has to get their reps in with the big names and the big names lead you inevitably and inexorably to the KJV either in whole (I have done the whole and it was a wild scene, I do not mind telling you) or in part so let's hear it for angels in poems. My friend Stephen is from Houston (roughly, though he is himself not rough) and insists the heat is completely outside of my experience and I am happy to keep it that way. This poem makes me think about watching international matches in a Portuguese sports bar in Toronto (one of many) where they had these little beans on the table for you to snack on; it also recalls being amongst many many sad Koreans at a bar owned by a couple where the man was Greek and the woman was Chinese and the owner tried to get all these sad Koreans going despite their team's complete shitkicking by yelling COME ON KOREA GREECE AND CHINA ARE UNITED FOR YOUUUU but it didn't work, everybody stayed sad. This is a solid poem. lol ok the way "Trans--" starts I was like "woah this is the real fvkkn deal" but those lines turned out to be Lorca. I choose to interpret this as confirmation of taste level. The rest of the poem is maybe not as good as the Lorca? 
WINNER: "A Parking Lot in West Houston"
So eliminated at #29 is Rita Dove.

#28: Peter Gizzi (repped by It Was Raining On Delft) vs. Donald Hall (repped by Her Long Illness)

National Book Award poets getting the raw number deal into the early draws in abundance, as Gizzi was a short-lister, and Hall was a long-lister.
I read the Gizzi poem twice but I still got no fucking clue what is going on there. Too wack for analysis. The Hall poem is about wife in chemotherapy deep stages of cancer, and it is begging for my emotion, but honestly the end part about husband and dying wife wandering as far as protocols allow them to “so that she could smell the snowy air” is moving enough. When my own grandmother was dying of the breast cancers, towards the end in hospice, my uncle and me tag teamed her one day to convince her it was okay we push her outside in the warm day with her oxygen tank so that she could breath. She was unsure, and honestly we didn’t ask the staff, but fuck man, people need the outside and solar energies and to still be in touch with natural world if we are to remain natural beings. So because of this simple triggered memory of my dear grandmother who helped raise thirty thousand kids in the same raggedy trailer she lived in since I was like 4 (and still exists, posthumously for her, and houses my aunt and her one or two grown sons depending on which of them is still living there at the time), I am all in on Hall. But what will our kvlt scholar say?
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: If "It Was Raining in Delft" had the courage or confidence or rashness or something to utterly commit to its Imagism instead of being almost about its images but not really and instead about their exhaustion (it's not true, they're never exhausted, it's not true), it might rise to the level of H.D., except that nothing ever will again unless it is fearless and so as a coward I sympathize with the poet's plight here completely (Whirl up, sea-- whirl your pointed pines, splash your great pines on our rocks, hurl your green over us, cover us with your pools of fir). "Her Long Illness" is an absolutely bullshit poem that takes a subject matter that is irrefutable and cheapens it with its un-art. Don't say "chemotherapy" in a poem. Or what I mean I guess is don't publish one that does. You've got to be careful with shit like this, it's not fair to do this. Don't inflict this.    
WINNER: "It Was Raining On Delft"
Sorry Donald Hall and your perhaps in real life dearly departed wife, but you were jobbed out at #28. See you again tomorrow (hopefully) casual internet poetry fans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I liked the Monica Youn poem.
~ANAW