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 27

2017 Royal Poetry Rumble: Section Eight


Perhaps we have reached the final week of our contest, but perhaps we have not. Unpaid deadlines are impossible to predict. I read recently someone affirm-tweet that when one writes, they should always write with an urgency. There is far more advice on how to be a good writer than there are good writers on this Earth though. (Although at the same time I’ll say there’s a plethora of great writers; it just seems like motherfuckers always want to be a goddamned expert.) (So with that disdain for digital expertise, let’s get down to some of our own.) (WE’RE DIFFERENT THOUGH!)

#9: Tyehimba Jess (represented by Alabaster Hands) vs. Lorna Crozier (repped by Man From The Labyrinth)

Jess was a Lannan Award winner, and has knocked one poet out already. Crozier was some sort of Canuck award winner, and also has knocked a person the fuck out of this thing. I remember liking Jess and being indifferent to Crozier.
Jess is an African-American man, and that perhaps is somewhat obvious by this particular poem, which I enjoy the rhythm of pretty heavily. There’s a strange rhymeless rhyme to it – a style I often (like to think I) incorporate in my own major works of eternal obscurity. Though I guess at this point this poem is somewhat predictable in content, it’s kind of hard to overlook the historical exploitations behind that content. Like that’s weird, that civilization-wide injustice would become cliché to us. (I’m sure somebody would be quick to pipe up IT IS NOT CLICHÉ, THIS IS YOUR PRIVILEGE SPEAKING! because oh man we love to condemn each other, don’t we?) Anyways, even though it does not strike me hard in my heart, stylistically this Jess poem is one of my more favorite ones this year.
The labyrinth poem was, eh, not much. I think I was hoping for centaur sex though.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "Alabaster Hands" has an air of obscure menace about it and so is not in my view to be dismissed lightly however "Man from the Labyrinth" plays lightly and yet seriously with myth and not just myth but Myth and that is one of the best things for poets to ever do, a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history (an idea of my own that I have just now had, nobody look that up). 
WINNER: "Man from the Labyrinth" 
NOOOOOOOO! (Unjustly) gone at #9 is Tyehimba Jess.

#8: Ben Ladouceur (repped by Ox) vs. Joy Harjo (repped by When the World as We Knew It Ended)

Ben Ladouceur won some Canadian poetry award I’m too lazy to google right now (which you figure I would’ve specified which one in my google doc notes, but no, I just put “CAN award” which does not mean Canada itself but some organization of Canadistan writers organization). And Joy Harjo is the fucking best.
I am not so sure about this Ladouceur poem. I don’t dislike it but through the course of this Royal Poetry Rumble (and perhaps my life itself tbh) I have moved from the desire to indulge in poems of degeneracy or marginalized joys, and now feel more attached to poetry which in whatever fucked up way it does, seems to be attached to our Earthly existence. Not really nature poetry, because most Nature Poetry is trash, but definitely Earthly shit. I’m not saying this Ox poem is not Earthly, but it has the feeling of accidentally catching 12 seconds of a youporn link that goes in a direction you just don’t really want to accidentally go.
Joy Harjo is Joy Harjo at this point, and this poem appears to be her 9/11 poem. One line in particular catches me:
The conference of the birds warned us, as they flew over
Many people know Rumi as a great poet from all of human time, but when someone asked Rumi about the depth of his poems he said something (along the lines of), “I have merely peered in through the door of truth briefly; Attar of Nishapur has walked around inside Truth at great depth.” Attar of Nishapur’s masterpiece (at least that is known) is The Conference of the Birds, which is an amazing lengthy poem, of the old Sufi Islamic tradition, which uses story of birds to explain (in unexplainable ways) how to get closer to God/Creater/Earth/Nature/Spirit/Universal Magnetics/Whatever the Fuck You Believe. It is a thing I from time to time go back to, and just kind of meditate upon a section, and is one of the main triggering reasons I wish I knew Persian so as to get at the kernel meaning inside the translations I read. I can only assume Joy Harjo was referring specifically to this masterpiece, as well as the East/West cultural differences (allegedly) behind 9/11, and so on and so forth.
But Harjo flips it, and after:
The racket in every corner of the world. As the hunger for war rose up in those who would steal to be president to be king or emperor, to own the trees, stones, and everything else that moved about the earth, inside the earth and above it. 
Life goes on. Mothers feed children and people still sing a song in the rubble. This is a thing I tell my children who (rightfully) are often a-feared of this current events world – life goes on. Regardless of the global warming and geopolitical chaos and whatever else that may happen, every day that you wake up is one where you simply do the shit you need to do to get to the end of that day.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: Helvetica is used here as a (literal) sign of gentrification and I am sure in the instance this poet is discussing it was, I do not doubt it for a moment, but at the same time I feel like helvetica takes a lot of shit these days as emblematic of all kinds of nonsense but strip that away and it just a nice font, you know? I don't use it for anything but not because of any reason other than that I don't think my computer has it to be honest and beyond that I really like to use Garamond when translating medieval verse, it has a good look for that, I think. "Ox" is super gay, like super *duper* gay, like almost upsettingly gay, nicely done. "When the World as we Knew it Ended" is on another level, though, its apocalypse dragon and its conference of birds. I hadn't properly read Revelations until I guess about a year ago now and all I can say about that is let's hear it for St. John of Patmos. This is just excellent, I think, one of the best this year.  
WINNER: "When the World as we Knew it Ended"
Gone at #8 is Ben Ladouceur.

#7: Juan Felipe Herrera (repped by Five Directions to My House) vs. Allison Hedge Coke (repped by The Change)

Juan Felipe Herrera is the United States poet laureate, and lucked out to not have his number drawn until now. Allison Hedge Coke’s been through a few battles in this thing already.
I don’t know Herrera outside of him being announced as one of the first non-white poet laureates by former President Obama, which of course is a good look. But I also remember the poems we had in this thing from Herrera last year were all not that exciting or, um, great. This little poem is not as bad as the ones last year (where the dude needed an umbrella), but I don’t know, there’s got to be something to this guy I’ve not been exposed to. I am left feeling teased, promised something that did not begin to happen, a premature ejaculation of poetry which failed to bring me to climax but is already smoking a cigarette and expecting accolades.
This Allison Hedge Coke poem, however, is the opposite, as it promises and it delivers, and it tells me that it knows I know about keeping cold beer in tractor toolboxes and it tells me that it knows I know about tobacco and became fascinated with it and would pull over in North Carolina (where this poem is set) and vibe on the tobacco (which is a crazy fucking plant, like it is crazy), and that it knew I lived in a trailer at the edge of a tobacco farm at one time, and the poem knows all this and knows I like those things and the poem uses it’s sleight of tongue to flip all this into complete and total climax, an orgasm of spirit though, non-sexual (although fuck it, everything is sexual in that basic fucking way), and the poem is thick with native culture being destroyed and thick with attachment of this to tobacco (which oh my god tobacco itself was enslaved by colonists, and it is such an oppressed plant, and when I say things like that and admit I’ve stood in tobacco fields touching these tobacco plants, I am probably casting a negative digital light on myself), and the descendants of slaves working the tobacco fields and the chemicals involved now and fuck, this is a poem. This is a fucking poem.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: If I may be frank with you Raven neither of these really speaks to me all that strongly and while on the one hand I do admire the concise nature of "Five Directions" I am not hesitating much at all in opting instead here for the cascading A.R. Ammons-towards-the-end-like-in-that-one-called-Garbage-which-is-so-good-man-I-should-totally-read-that-again-it's-right-there-on-my-poetry-shelf-why-don't-I feel of "The Change."  
WINNER: "The Change"

Lolol, well there you have it. Gone at #6 is Juan Felipe Herrera.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Kvlt Scholar on the first poem Man From the Labyrinth was the better of the two.
Harjo's poem was beautiful.
The Change took me on a journey. A sad story, for many reasons, in poem format.
Your commentary on the Herrera poem was funny (and true..it just leaves you hanging).