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, March 9

2017 Royal Poetry Rumble: The Tenth Installment


Well, we have arrived (slowly but honestly) at our final four poets – Allison Hedge Coke, Jay Hopler, Lorna Crozier, and last year’s winner Joy Harjo. To quickly repeat our protocol for learned poesy, as these match-ups have been generated randomly by Excel spreadsheet randomization formulas, the people are added back in. If there is any favoritism involved in the match-ups (or lack of being drawn at all until late in the game), it is Bill Gates fault (or the Google derivative to be more honest), not our’s. And as I looked at these final four after the last set of 3 match-ups were finished, I thunk to myself, “Oh man I hope I hope I HOPE that somehow Allison Hedge Coke and Joy Harjo make the final.”
Last summer in the build-up to the MOST IMPORTANT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION EVER (until next one), I did an Amtrak/Greyhound loop around the entire American country, from Virginia out to Seattle down to L.A. back over to New Orleans then up home. I wrote tanka poetry (which likely will never see the light of day) the entire time. On that trip I had two things which really stuck out to me as take-aways – a) fuck fences or walls, they are arbitrary in definition and apply ownership to everything, and b) you know what? give control of the land back to the indigenous elders. I know that sounds corny and cliché, and the automatic response anybody deeply immersed in our form of empirical civilization would say, “You can’t just give all the land away… that’d bring chaos!” And even in my own personal life, it’d be difficult to literally give up ownership of the place I really don’t even have a single cent of equity in to claim actual ownership of. But those were my  takeaways.
I have thought a lot in the past six months as well about English as a colonial language, and whether it has taken the necessary steps to be as natural a language as it could be, or whether it has been used as an oppressing language. People around the world do not learn English to write poetry – they learn it to conduct business, or get jobs. This makes me sad, because this is the only language I am totally fluent in.
All this land we walk on (speaking to Americans here but really the whole of the western hemisphere this is applicable to) did not know the language currently used upon its surface until very recent times. The language of the land has traditionally been something very different. I’m not sure why this weighs so heavy on me the past half a year or so, but it does, not like a “wow, that’s a sad fact, oh well, history, let’s go to the movies,” but as a real fucking heavily saddening glaring fault that needs some rectification of some sort.
Anyways, all this left me excited for two indigenous women, both writing in what would not be their people’s native language, but applying their innate philosophies to that language – “reinventing the enemy’s language” as it is called in a collection of women indigenous writers co-edited by Harjo I’m currently reading.
I don’t know how many people actually click these things, or actually read these stories, but I suggest one of the most important things one can do if they love poetry is to plant that language back into the Earth, reconnect it with nature (even if writing about seemingly unnatural humane subjects). There’s a lot of imbalance in our current situation as people – politically, environmentally, poetically – and nature recalibrates shit if it is allowed to.
And thus, here we are…

#4: Allison Hedge Coke (represented by Wokiksuye) vs. Joy Harjo (repped by Ah Ah)

I would’ve happily wrote all that for a proud finale showdown between these two amazing writers, but our method did not accommodate such manmade perfection. That is fine. One can’t go on long internet diatribe about letting things happen more naturally, then complain because what naturally happened didn’t meet their personal desires. Before this year’s Royal Poetry Rumble, I had never read Allison Hedge Coke, so I am immensely thankful this ridiculousness existed a second year for that alone.
Coke’s poem is of cancer, and mostly in Siouan language it appears, so I am in the dark on half of it. I work in my day job in a mundane administrative position related to cancer research, and though that sounds noble (and certainly one can make a noble-sounding email signature for themselves in such work), seeing the sausage made at the ol’ cancer research factory scares the fuck out of me on many levels. I have lost loved ones to cancer (haven’t we all at this point?), and likely will lose more (statistically speaking, as well as knowing the medical history of family members). Perhaps I am just stoned by the sunshine I sit under in my backyard on this off day writing this shit at a tiny table, but perhaps the imbalance spoken of earlier as applied to our words and our actions all contributes to this cancer. I can’t say for certain in any scientific way, nor do I care to (having seen the sausage factory on the inside). As for judging the poem, there’s little for me to judge, but this:
The spirit is connected 
to the hair at the 
crown—pahin hocoka. 
The hair falls 
the spirit goes, 
the will is 
connected no more.
This feels more truthful than the science that rules my mundane desk job activities forty hours a week.
Harjo’s poem begins by saying the crow calls “ah ah” and then this “ah ah” is a universal language also spoken by ocean waves and human lungs and the sounds of their oars and even the plane overhead (you see? through language man reunited with nature, instead of “man vs. nature”) and the sound of her soul being scraped also is “ah ah”, and as someone who often sits in the woods attempting to better understand what the crows are saying (no shit, I do this), I can say I support this poem heartily, in the most literal sense of that word “heartily” possible.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: I don't think it is an unreasonable position that I take when I insist that no cancer poems are good; I have read a bunch of them, and they are just not good, and this is no exception. Why do people do this. When I was the (bad) fiction editor of a (pretty good) completely tiny literary magazine we would get so many stories about people getting cancer and literally none of them were ever even ok. I think poems about cancer are only like one discourse-level above people who say "fuck cancer" when somebody dies of cancer, which is just the gooniest shit ever. It is going to take a real fuckup on the part of "Ah Ah" not to beat a poem that says "chemotherapy" and "leukemia" in it and I say we find out together. Oh shit, it has crows. And also some other things. I tell you this: "Ah ah scrapes the hull of my soul" is some Melville-level seafaring compared to saying chemotherapy in a poem, everybody please stop. 
WINNER: "AH AH"
Eliminated at #4, but given (arbitrarily by me) the 2017 Laura Kasischke Award for out-of-nowhere greatness, is Allison Hedge Coke.

#3: Lorna Crozier (repped by Once There Was a Singing) vs. Jay Hopler (repped by And the Sunflower Weeps for the Sun, Its Flower)

Lorna Crozier won last year’s Pat Crowther Award for top Canadian woman poet. I figured I’d clarify that since I’ve been too lazy to do so thus far, and she’s already eliminated three other poets, and is now in the final four. I have not loved Crozier’s stuff, but I have not hated it either. She very much reminds me of high school English teacher exposing the young to poetry, which is to say I could not possibly dislike her, despite her content being far off my base of knowledge. This Crozier poem is much like the others in that I personally do not vibe to it, but I can see where someone who is not me could enjoy it. I do not fault anyone for not being like me; in fact, I’d encourage it.
Lololol, almost as if on cue, Hopler’s poem goes through things I can relate to, and then drops:
As a man, I am a disappointment, I know that. 
Is it my fault I was born in shadow?
The Hopler poem is depressing, but I feel it more than Crozier’s, perhaps because I am generally depressed.
THE KVLT SCHOLAR’S HANTEI: "Once There Was A Singing" uses familiar tales of myth and legend to talk about birds and also trees that turn to ghosts and won't grow leaves which is to say it is a poem written directly for me (thank you, mystery poet) so despite the really quite lovely title of "And The Sunflower Weeps for the Sun, It's Flower" this wasn't ever going to be close, was it, and also I fundamentally disagree with the idea (in the latter) that emptiness is the only freedom in a fallen world; I think that is an adolescent nihilism that insufficiently accounts for love.  
WINNER: "Once There Was a Singing"

Gone at #3 is Jay Hopler, and our Canadian kvlt scholar (while blinded to author) pushes this last Canadian wild card poetess through to the final, where Lorna Crozier will take on last year’s champion, Joy Harjo. That will happen tomorrow on this ridiculous compendium of illegitimate arts and scholarship called Rojonekku dotcom.

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