Poetry April Madness 5: Round 1, Game 4

by Jonathan Hobratsch & Agon Haroldson

Welcome to Game 4 of Poetry April Madness! since we are running out of time, this game has been conducted rather swiftly. The next games will probably be conducted even quicker. To see the rules, click here.

Game 4 Results
The Strophes (Gregory Corso, Bob Holman, Sylvia Plath, John Gallaher, Alan Dugan, Rosanna Warren, Jane Kenyon, Philip Schultz, Campbell McGrath)
The Rondeaus (Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hass, Ron Padgett, Timothy Donnelly, Kazim Ali, John Greenleaf Whittier, August Kleinzahler, Lorine Neidecker, James Schuyler)
Match up results
Gregory Corso “Marriage”
August Kleinzahler “The Tartar Swept”
JH: Corso’s poem opens up as a goth love poem with the odd lover attempting to make a cemetery at night into a romantic evening. The second stanza implies that the date was a success, since the stanza explores the awkwardness of meeting the parents. The poem then moves on to the natural fears and insecurities caused by a wedding. Then, like a turn/volta in a sonnet, he says, “but I should get married.” With this, the poem details a rather mundane life compared to his previous goth existence. After detailing these normal things, his language becomes stranger, as if to rebel against mundanity: “Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on a lawnmower.” The poem continues to drag the helpless narrator through a married life that is far from ideal. His wife is now physically, emotionally and personally undesirable. In the end he seems perfectly fine with the possibility of being 60 and unmarried. The poem ends with a short stanza to close the poem.
AH: Is the poem similar to a sonnet?
JH: Yeah, I’d call it a modern sonnet. It doesn’t have the rhyme scheme or the line count, but it fulfills every other aspect just about. It reminds me somewhat of “My Mistress’s Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun” by Shakespeare, in that it is comic and is the opposite of the sonnet ideal. The poem offers a subject, analyzes it, and then it turns, continues to philosophize. Then it reaches its closing result.
AH: You’ve said that comic poems usually won’t win.
JH: Well, we had one that did win. I think it was Pinsky’s win over Robert Lowell. I think Corso’s poem will defeat most other comic poems, and less-well-written serious poems.
AH: Let’s see what the next poet does.
JH: [reads] This is a fantastic historical poem about the Tatar invasion of Europe. Possibly Atilla the Hun’s invasion. In fact, the poem might be confusing or merging the Hun invasion and the Mongol invasion, which are separate invasions about 800 years apart from one another. The fast pace of the poem, and the word choice (both harsh and foreign words) evoke an actual invasion. Some of the metaphors are lighthearted, but it somehow brings out the terribleness of what is going on with the rampaging and all. The understated penultimate line — “remorseless and in poor humor.” The last line ends like a shuttered gate, “So they arrived at the gates of Christendom.” Overall, it’s a great poem.
AH: Which poem wins.
JH: It’s very close. I have a bias for historical poems. I’d like to make an anthology of historical poems. These poems are about even. I’ll go with Kleinzahler though.
Result: Kleinzahler def. Corso
Current Score: Strophes 0 Rondeaus 1
Rosanna Warren “Simile”
Lorine Neidecker “When Ecstasy is Inconvenient”
AH: Up first, Rosanna Warren, the daughter of the Robert Penn Warren.
JH: [reads] The poem is aptly named, as similes are given, and more importantly, the first part of the poem, about the skier, is compared and contrasted to the part about the poet’s mother. The dying mother is like the skier that cannot let go of the railings at the starting gate. Likewise, the skier is like the most mother than cannot let go of the bedrails. The end of the poem asks, “and/ who was it, finally, who loosened/ her hands?” The skiers hands were released by teammates, finger by finger. The mother, who dies (“finally”) fingers are loosened by death. I’m wonder if the poem implies that death is a teammate. Very good poem.
AH: Next poem is by an Objectivist. You said you don’t like their poetry.
JH: Yeah, for the most part, they don’t do much for me. Warren’s poem was good enough that she should probably defeat Neidecker, but we shall see. [Reads] I’m surprised. This poem is actually really good. It’s short, but here are some lines I liked, “Heart, be still./ Say there is money but it rusted;/  Say the time of moon is not right for escape.” I’m always amused when “still” is put with “heart.” It happens fairly often, “be still my beating heart,” for instance. Obviously, if taken literally, that’s an order that can kill. “The time of moon” line is interesting, too, because time is traditionally linked to a sundial, and days by the rising and setting sun. Although, a few civilizations and religions are known for keeping a lunar calendar, but hourly time would still be conducted by the sun. Before electric lights, naturally, people would be asleep when the moon was up, and a dial wouldn’t be necessary. The poem reminds me of some of Armantrout’s best poems. I also see some Paul Celan in this, but I don’t know if Niedecker ever read Celan. All three are flexible thinkers of the highest order.
AH: So, who wins?
JH: I was going to say that Warren has this easily in the bag. I don’t completely understand Niedecker’s poem; although, I have a vague feeling of recognizing what it might be about. It’s like seeing the outline of an animal, and the other parts of it are going in and out of focus. Or maybe, just like looking at something without my glasses on.
AH: So, who wins?
JH: I’m going to go with Warren, but I think if I reread the other poem a few more times, then Niedecker could win. Too close.
Result: Warren def. Niedecker
Current Score: Strophes 1 Rondeaus 1
 Jane Kenyon “Having it Out with Melancholy”
Timothy Donnelly “Hymn to Life”
AH: As we are about in the middle of the month of April, we should probably speed through these without elaborating too much on each individual poem. Basically, give your winner, and your reason why that poem tops the other poem.
JH: Ok. [reads both poems] I’m going with Donnelly here. Both of these long poems are good, but I have a bias towards intelligent poems that combine humor, depth, playfulness, seriousness  and history. I have a stronger desire to re-read Donnelly’s poem (actually, it will be a 3rd time since I’ve read it before). I’ll probably re-read Kenyon’s someday, too.
AH: Anything else to add?
JH: I should mention that Donnelly is kind of a disciple of Ashbery. I recommend anyone who likes to read Ashbery to read Donnelly as well. They’re different, but a lot of what is good in Ashbery is also in Donnelly.
Result: Donnelly def. Kenyon
Current Score: Strophes 1 Rondeaus 2
Campbell McGrath “The Prose Poem”
Gwendolyn Brooks “We Real Cool”
AH: I remember you read an update or rewrite of “We Real Cool” by Terrance Hayes
JH: Yeah, that was the “Golden Shovel,” which I think is even better than “We Real Cool”. Brooks’s poem is a classic and will remain immortal, but I’ve read it into oblivion, so it’s temporarily lose it’s power for me. One day it will reemerge to destroy other poems, but for now I’m going to go with McGrath’s poem, which is very much the opposite of Brooks’s poem in form. His poem is a torrent of description made specifically for his closing question, “…do the formal fields end where the valley begins, or does everything that surrounds us emerge from its embrace?”
Result: McGrath def. Brooks
Current Score: Strophes 2 Rondeaus 2
Bob Holman “Words When Bored”
Robert Hass “Meditation at Lagunitas”
AH: Who is Bob Holman?
JH: He open the Bowery Poetry Club, which is historically one of the most well-known literary venues in NYC. I went there a few times, reading once, when they needed to pass some time. I think he also had something to do with the Nuyorican Cafe, which is also in NYC, and does standup and stories now, for the most part. I went there once. Holman, like David Lehman, are poetry activists. They write good stuff from time to time, but it seems most of their effort, or recognized effort, is toward helping other poets.
AH: Does he beat Hass today?
JH: Hass is a recognized master, so it may be difficult. [Reads both poems] I like “Stop! The moon’s a thief! you cry” from Holman’s poem. It’s a fun poem.  Hass’s poem is more than a good line, it’s a deep, meditative poem, far more complex than Holman’s poem. It’s very specific in its language, written by the kind of mind that would be able to catch the corn growing and write about it. The ending line, like the Om, Om, Om of a Tibetan Buddhist is “blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.” I think Om, Om, Om should follow this line, personally.
Result: Hass def. Holman
Current Score: Strophes 2 Rondeaus 3
Sylvia Plath “Daddy”
James Schuyler “A Man in Blue”
AH: Ah, Schuyler, one of those from the Ashbery/O’Hara circle.
JH: Yeah.
AH: No doubt, Plath would be the favorite of hordes of American readers.
JH: Well, she has a cult. Unfortunately for her, the poem she has been dealt has been read by me enough to have lost some of its magic. Meanwhile, I’ve never read Schuyler’s poem. So, Plath might be at a disadvantage in the same way that Brooks was. [Reads both poems] Also, I’ve never liked the ending of Plath’s poem. It doesn’t seem like it needs to be there. Schuyler’s poem reminds me of the Dickman poem I read the other day. I forgot it’s name, but we compared it to Polyphonic Spree. This poem, as Schuyler calls the day, is Brahmsian. It’s music, it’s dancing, it is light. I like it.
Result: Schuyler def. Plath
Current Score: Strophes 2 Rondeaus 4
John Gallaher “In a Landscape I”
Ron Padgett “Thinking About the Moon”
AH: The Strophes are seriously in danger here. Rondeaus need only one more win. Can Padgett deliver it?
JH: Padgett is going against John Gallaher, who is one of my favorite poets. Gallaher reminds me of James Tate, who I also like to read a lot. My bias will likely help the Strophes here.
AH: Read.
JH: [Reads both poems] I’ve read the entire book from which Gallaher’s poem is from. I’m surprised this is the top poem, because there were scores from the book that I liked more than this poem, but this wasn’t is good, too. “Other people’s lives are a form of distance, something you can look at, like a landscape.” Padgett’s poem is a childhood recollection. A very complete poem. They’re both very philosophical in their own ways. I’m going to go with Gallaher’s, because I know I’ll want to read it again.
Result: Gallaher def. Padgett
Current Score: Strophes 3 Rondeaus 4
Alan Dugan “Love Song: I and Thou”
Kazim Ali “Rain”
AH: Let’s see how quickly you can do this. We’re almost out of time.
JH: Okay. I’ve read Dugan’s poem before, but not Ali’s poem. [Reads both] Both of these poems are fantastic, and either one probably could win the entire round on their own. I’m going to go with Ali, because it’s new to me. It’s really a tie, but I have to pick one.
Result: Ali def. Dugan
Current Score: Strophes 3 Rondeaus 5
Philip Schultz
John Greenleaf Whittier
AH: Rondeaus will move on to round 2 regardless of this match ups result.
JH: Yeah, Whittier generally comes off as dated, so Schultz will probably win. I think Whittier is a distant cousin of mine. I have a colonial Massachusetts Greenleaf ancestor. I think I verified we were related a few years ago.
AH: For the love of….read!
JH: [reads both poems] Yeah, Whittier’s poem is very learned relgious poem, like Milton. Unlike Milton, it lacks any strangeness, originality or vibrancy to make an impression. Schultz’s poem, which is less complex, wins, because it doesn’t seem like it’s trying to hard to teach me a thing or two. All I learn about Schultz is who Schultz might be. For Whittier, he’s writing in a few dated European style, even for his own time, pretty much pre-Wordsworthian.
Result: Schultz def. Whittier
Current Score: Strophes 4 Rondeaus 5
The Rondeaus (Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hass, Ron Padgett, Timothy Donnelly, Kazim Ali, John Greenleaf Whittier, August Kleinzahler, Lorine Neidecker, James Schuyler) will go on to round 2.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Unfortunately for Plath 🙂 –Paul

    Liked by 1 person

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