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 16

2017 Royal Poetry Rumble: The Third Act


Welcome to the third installment of this Royal Poetry Rumble, where each day (at least in the beginning) three one-on-one match-ups of modern poets do battle, to eliminate each other, and survive unto the deeper realms of this imaginary battle royale. Let us recap the eliminations thus far…
#30: Daniel Borzutzky (eliminated by Jennifer Moxley)
#29: Rita Dove (eliminated by Monica Youn)
#28: Donald Hall (eliminated by Peter Gizzi)
#27: Kevin Young (eliminated by Peter Balakian)
#26: Fred Moten (eliminated by Jennifer Moxley)
#25: Eva HD (eliminated by Monica Youn)

#24: Elizabeth Willis (represented by Ephemeral Stream) vs. Allison Hedge Coke (repped by Percheron Nambe Morning)

Elizabeth Willis was a Pulitzier finalist, and Allison Hedge Coke was appointed to a Wytter Bynner fellowship by current U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera (who will enter this thing later at some point).
Lolol I’m not sure Willis is really even trying too hard as (in the second stanza):
I wanted to write a poem  and call it "Ephemeral Stream"
I do not feel this at all. I do however feel Allison Hedge Coke’s poem strongly, specifically the part about flicking your lights at oncoming traffic to warn them of pigs ahead:
and Pueblo patrol cars we catch in peripheral focus signal turn the halogens off and on on and off until they code the signal distress signal approaching tribal police traffic trap commuting the 35 mph racket

She owns. I’m gonna be so mad if the kvlt scholar picks the shitty ass Willis poem.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: It has been said that all great poesy is in some way at its core about itself as poesy but I think sometimes people take that too literally and do this kind of thing? I am not dismissing the move towards foregrounding process completely and in fact turn to Al Purdy's admission/apology/declaration "I have been stupid in a poem" in my heart often, but one must tread lightly, in my view. "Percheron Nambe Morning" however is a credible little poem about a pretty a horse and so I do not hesitate even slightly to give it the nod here, pausing only to note that this poem speaks of the first catholic church in North America and I would add to this by way of trivia that the first Anglican church in North America is in the unassailable locale of Halifax, Nova Scotia and if you did not know now you do. 
WINNER: "Percheron Nambe Morning"
Okay, good. Out at #24 is Elizabeth Willis.

#23: Joy Harjo (repped by A Map to the Next World) vs. Ross Gay (repped by To My Best Friend’s Big Sister)

Joy Harjo enters the poetic fracas, as last year’s Royal Poetry Rumble defending champion. She perhaps did not show as strongly as Laura Kasischke, but that doesn’t matter really because she still earned the win. Ross Gay is also a returning competitor, last year having been a National Book Award finalist, and then he followed that up by the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for that same collection, Unabashed Gratitude. BOTH THESE POETS (albeit not for real like) ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE POETRY RUMBLE’S FORMAT. WILL THIS GIVE THEM AN ADVANTAGE?
I seriously contemplated quoting about every other part of the Joy Harjo poem (because it is in my opinion so very great) and I can’t encourage you enough to click the title link and read it fully. But specific to my current sentiments upon this Earth is this part:
In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it. 
Where I live physically upon the surface of the Earth is in America, part of what was the Virginia colony, and actually where colonial conquest butted ways with Monacan people who inhabited large part of Virginia along the James River from the fall of the James just west of Richmond all the way up to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had an elder influence in my life talk about the language of the land (this was a native person, so obviously a much stronger concept in indigenous culture), and thinking about where I live and how it is so scarred by 21st Century American existence (not to mention the fact my goats dug up a couple quartz arrowheads over the years) got me to thinking about linguistics and nature, and how English is quite literally foreign to this land in terms of the centuries before the arrival of the English. So what of that Monacan language? I reached out to a Monacan poet, as she has done extensive academic research in this very issue, and the language itself is mostly evaporated. There are older members who can speak a few words, but the language itself is mostly gone. (And the tribe is not federally recognized either.)
This brings to mind perhaps the most ironic and yet ultimately United States-ish tale (I try to use “United States” instead of “America” when disparaging this cultural hegemony that crushes us all, because the still-misnomered “American” native cultures might be our only hope to self-correct ourselves back from oblivion) of Thomas Jefferson being fascinated by these indigenous people when he observed them returning to burial mounds near Monticello (15 miles from the Bird Tribe Compound, as the car groans), so he began collecting their words onto paper, in one of the first academic dictionaries of indigenous language. At some point though, thieves robbed his cart in transit, and made off with the trunk with this meticulously compiled dictionary, but seeing nothing of known value (that they could sell immediately), they tossed it into the James River. Jefferson’s dictionary of indigenous words was lost to the very river the English traveled up to manufacture the United States.
Anyways, I wish I knew the language of this land better, but it is lost, except one can still go outside and lean against trees and listen to crows and the wind and look at the blackberry and pokeberry and all the other supernatural shit, and re-learn the language by immersion. But we have lost so many centuries of solid work that had already been done.
Harjo also writes “The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine” and I don’t think we’ve ever had a stronger poem in any of these rumble nonsenses, and I am going to read this poem to my children, and also likely go get all the Joy Harjo I can find from the university library later this week.
There really is zero hope for Ross Gay’s poem in comparison, and I read it a couple times over but honestly was still so thoroughly lit up by Harjo’s words which all resonated so deeply with me that I might as well been looking at Cyrillic when reading Gay’s thing. A sly pop cultural reference of Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock was no counter for pure Planet Rock truthstorms of a (potentially) healing nature.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;— Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!" is pretty much the long and the short of "A Map to the New World" and do not say that to belittle it but instead to praise it generally and to praise the beauty of "Once we knew everything in this lush promise" in particular, because that line alone would be enough to elevate a terrible poem but this is on the contrary a very good one. "To My Best Friend's Big Sister" is probably totally good (and impressively lurid in its art; you read this one and don't feel good about it) but "A Map to the New World" is the best one yet I think.  
WINNER: "A Map to the New World"
Out at #23 is Ross Gay, and regardless of whether she wins or not, Joy Harjo is the winner in the larger sense of the intent behind this ridiculous internet project. That poem is amazing.

#22: Jane Mead (repped by I Have Been Living) vs. Jennifer Moxley (repped by There Is a Birdsong at the Root of Poetry)

Jane Mead was a National Book Award long-lister, and poor dear Jennifer Moxley has been drawn both previous days, and won both previous times. She is randomly pulled back into the fracas a third time already, with half the field not even been drawn once, and this does not seem fair but the process of most things in life follow unfair protocols that you just try to keep transparent so that when shit goes wrong ( as it will), nobody has good argument to shoot you in the face.
Mead’s poem is short but full of ocean love, and suggests the cleansing power of that ocean (and the humane recklessness to sometimes want to abandon land completely for that deep cleansing). Moxley’s poem is perhaps not bad but has been obliterated by an overuse of Hardcore Poetry Formatting. It moves from solid wrestling match poetry metaphor into gimmicky spotfest where the good parts are lost in the overbearing “Look at me! I am fucking Poetry!” of it.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "I Have Been Living" is a fine seaside lyric, and that is a genre I am never less than extremely ready for, and does it not call to mind Donald Glover's character's dream in the first episode of the seemingly good television show "Atlanta" that I have only watched the first to episodes of, please don't tell me what happens. I don't know if this came up last year (I would not at all be surprised if it did; I am not going to check) but for reasons I have never been able to properly articulate I just don't like the word "birdsong," which is weird, because it is a very ordinary poetry word to talk about the songs of birds, no problem, and I am all the way in on birds, I watch them eagerly and look up in books to learn about the ones that appear newly in the yard. But "birdsong" has always seemed a little precious to me, I guess? I don't know. I first brought this up with an old friend and fine poet who was about to send a bunch of his stuff off to Faber & Faber (why not, was my position on that; why the fvkk not) and this was probably fifteen years ago, or close to it, and all I could manage then was pretty much that "this word . . . this word is not my kind of word" and I am no further ahead with it now. Also please note that poems that appear on the page as "There is Birdsong at the Root of Poetry" are pretty much universally bad.  
WINNER: "I Have Been Living" 
So gone at #22 is Jennifer Moxley, who put up a valiant effort (unbeknownst to her) in this thing.

Well it also appears our scholarship has been in full agreement throughout this third day of the Royal Poetry Rumble, and that is because (I assume) we are both attuned the truthfulness of nature. Perhaps man vs. nature is a binary fallacy created by man to desperately hold onto his dominion over the Earth? I do not know. But I do care.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Jennifer Moxley one was absolutely terrible. And I love birds and their song(s).
~ANAW