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.

Thursday, February 23

2017 Royal Poetry Rumble: The Sixth Part


Ahh yes, the idiotic internet project once it is just over halfway finished, when one starts to suffer the digital existential crisis of whether any of this has any purpose or merit whatsoever. The only thing to do though is blindly hack on towards the end, swinging your keyboard kukri machete indiscriminantly without a fuck to be given.

#15: Solmaz Sharif (represented by Lanat Abad / The Place of the Damned) vs. Jay Hopler (repped by That Light One Finds in Baby Pictures)

Both Solmaz Sharif and Jay Hopler made the National Book Award short list last season for books of poetry. Hopler has already been part of this 2017 fracas of battle poetry, whereas Sharif has not.
The Sharif poem is very sparse, with extreme spacing, and considering it is about confinement there is some assumed importance to that. Having briefly worked with jail writing programs (and really needing to do so again), the thick sadness which can never be revealed fully that one feels in such environments is fairly overwhelming. You cannot shower it off of you. It is a psychic grime. This poem, whether it wanted to or not, triggers that memory for me, and thus, is a solid punch of poetry.
The Hopler poem also triggers thoughts, namely how there is a weird picture of me as a tiny human where I look exactly like the male version of my youngest daughter, and she in fact has somehow dislodged this photo from whatever album it was in, and now it floats around her room, sometimes tacked to the wall, sometimes just sitting on the side table, sometimes beneath my feet on the floor as I tuck her in at night. Memories of our youth for whatever reason bring up melancholy as well because I guess we always end up realizing a lot of the hope we are spoonfed as a youngster is ultimately bullshit, which is likely why somebody wrote HELL in Hopler’s poem.
Ahh… shattered dreams of youth, and solitary confinement inside prison – a really nice pairing of poems. I think I’ll go swallow a hollow point underneath a sycamore tree now.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "Lanat Abad" is immediately disqualified due to utterly self-indulgent formatting and I don't even feel bad about it for a second. "The Light One Finds in Baby Pictures," in addition to being monumentally less obnoxious on the page, describes the light as old and pale and hurt, which is as correct as I think anyone has ever been about light, and, I mean, think about that. 
WINNER: "The Light One Finds in Baby Pictures"
Harsh but fair. Gone at #15 is Solmaz Sharif, she of the self-indulgent formatting.

#14: Joy Harjo (repped by An American Sunrise) vs. Liz Howard (repped by Standard Time)

Joy Harjo is back! And she is also my favorite now. Liz Howard makes her first appearance, as one of last year’s Griffin Prize winners, which I don’t remember what it is nor do I feel like looking it up, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because big poetry prizes are a fucking racket and your local homeless people write (freestyle) better poetry than most of what is considered Must-Read Poetry by the poetry industry (which, without academic subsidy, would have long been bankrupt).
I do not pretend to equate “white” underclass or any underclass with the native experience, but there are similarities (intersectionalism) in how we learn to deal with the shit life piles upon us, such as in this poem when she writes about losing days: “Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget.”
So much is fucked about United States existence right now, and it’s not fucked in like “well these things are breaking and need fixing” but the actual infrastructure of what is United States is so immensely perverted and corrupt that honestly the whole thing needs to go ahead and breakdown in order to ever have a hope of being halfway right again. The foundation is rotten and we’re thinking we can just put a new coat of paint on the drywall. I vote for giving everything back to the oldest 1000 indigenous people on the continent, and let them decide what happens next.
This Harjo poem is not my favorite I’ve read in her run through these Royal Poetry Rumbles, yet even lacking in that relative scale, it is so thoroughly worthwhile. In her lesser moments, she is still more immense than most poets could hope to be. I remind myself (again) that I really need to go get every fucking book of her’s from the university library, today.
Liz Howard’s poem is a good coupling with the Harjo one, and Howard herself is also indigenous. For clarification, Harjo is Mvskoke, and Howard is Anishinaabe. Also, in consulting the Wikipedia page on Howard, she studied cognitive neuroscience (which is some shit I love, to be honest). Howard’s poem is a good one as well, and without having known she was indigenous, it could be deduced. I’d like to think that if we really stripped down our social constructs, we were all ultimately indigenous, and when I am forest bathing amidst oaks and pines and crows, this makes sense. But when I walk through “civilization” (the scariest of scare quotes) it is pretty obvious that this is wishful thinking on my part. Our social constructs have destroyed too much shit.
Anyways, this “Standard Time” poem by Howard is great, but Joy Harjo remains the strongest of poetic spirits (in my humbled opinion).
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "An American Sunrise" is an admirably tough little poem and the "American" in the title is doing real work here so when I say what I am about to say about that I am actually excluding this poem from it mostly *but* the tendency in American things to think that putting the word American in front of an ordinary thing somehow makes it extraordinary or somehow more worthy of solemn refection is in my view a symptom of the (contemptible) habit of thought present even in many Americans critical of America to think that some unique thing is either at work in America or was once at work in America but now isn't and so saying an American something is going to make it more poignant; there is no other nation in the history of civilization that has been this needlessly baselessly arrogant even when writing/acting in supposed critique of this arrogance and so in that way yes there you go there is your unique experiment, no one has ever had their heads this far up there own asses, fuck off. But again this poem is good, and tough, and better than "Standard Time," which stacks up some images well enough that it is definitely ok.  
WINNER: "An American Sunrise" 
Again, harsh but fair scholarship, which likely will remain in the back of my mind from this point forward. Liz Howard more than respectfully bows out at #14.

#13: Diane Seuss (repped by Don’t Say Paris) vs. Kyle Dargan (repped by The Robots Are Coming)

Diane Seuss has knocked someone the fuck out of this thing already. Kyle Dargan makes a RPR debut, having been a Kingsley Tuft finalist.
In reading Seuss’s poem about Paris, I will admit right out front here that I am needlessly biased against the French. Actually, in realizing this bias in recent years, I have come to a greater appreciation of French culture, but the very simple linguistic harshness of their language bothers me. (I also am bothered by loud eating, specifically smacky eaters, and this fills me with rage at times, so I’m sure I have some sort of skull interior deficiency or imbalance involved in all this.) So I caught no feels for this Paris poem, like none. It was certainly a poetic poem, and I knew I was supposed to catch feels, but nope, none. I am cold and indifferent to it. I’m not proud of this, but it is what happened.
Meanwhile, the robots which are coming have “clear-cased woofers for heads” in the first line, and fuck if I do not understand that phrasing pretty deeply with my paranoid half-luddite ass.
They await counterintelligence 
transmissions from our laptops 
and our blue teeth
YES! And Dargan does not stop, offering up abandoned industrial rust belt shitholes to these robots, attempting to “barter for our lives”. This speaks to all my worries in this very moment of sitting in front of two monitors inside one cubicle with less life to live than I had yesterday. (Also my cell phone is sitting there, like a little fucking tombstone mock-up, just waiting to vibrate with more nothing.)
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "Don't Say Paris" has a world-weariness that feels unearned but what do I know, maybe it is the best earned thing ever and I am just being difficult. I think it is notable that of the two flowers (I think it was just two) mentioned here one is a peony, which is I think the most over-represented flower in all of literature (I say this with no desire to slight the peony itself). The excellent and at times superweird-Jungian novelist Robertson Davies I think wrote in his letters that his first memory was of a peony but I have become so suspicious of the peony as a trope or topoi or commonplace or maybe all three that I don't know what to believe (and he was a sneaky guy, too, so I am troubled all the more). "The Robots Are Coming" is utterly trivial but calls to mind the thing Tolkien said in one of his letters as the destruction of Germany (which grieved him awfully despite having sons in the war, and he himself a solider in the war before it) loomed and that is there would be, as he saw it, no true winner but the machines, the machines. I am going to go so far as to risk breaking with the whole spirit of this exercise and actually look it up: "Well the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter—leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines." It is haunting and right.  
WINNER: "Don't Say Paris" 
Dammit! THIS IS NOT UTTERLY TRIVIAL KVLT SCHOLAR – WE NOW LIVE IN A COLD AND HEARTLESS AGE OF ROBOTIC THINKING. (I guess the mention of Tolkien’s letter co-signs this sentiment, but I am disappointed in the lack of love for Dargan’s poem. Perhaps this once I will call this decision both harsh as well as unfair.
Gone at #13 is Kyle Dargan. 
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Solmaz Sharif poem did have annoying spacing, but I liked it better of the two regardless.
"An American Sunrise" was strong.