#4 Seeds Aftermath

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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WHILE antifa protesters raged outside the hall– upset at the inclusion of Ezra Pound in the Tournament– three of the latest selections held an impromptu Q & A with members of the local press. (Pound remained secure in his hotel room, sharing drinks and stories with old friend Ernest Hemingway.)

A few highlights:

John Steinbeck:  “I thank the Tournament judges for finding me worthy of this honor. In my heart there may be some doubt that I deserve to be included over other men of letters whom I hold in respect– but there is no question of my pleasure in being included.”

Steinbeck gave a shout-out to Pound, noting that the poet might be used to being confined in tight places and would survive the experience.

William Faulkner related the oft-told anecdote about hunting with Clark Gable and Howard Hawks, when they were discussing books and Gable discovered Faulkner was a writer. Asked by Gable to recommend a few authors, Faulkner said, “Thomas Mann, Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, and myself.”

Faulkner was never much of a conversationalist, so having him repeat the story was a minor coup. He also answered a few questions, such as this one:

“Was the writer character played by Dick Powell in the classic film ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ based on you?”

One-minute pause.

“No.”
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The highlight of the afternoon was Sylvia Plath reading one of her poems. It sounded something like this:

All-in-all, the press conference was a success.

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Gil Scott-Heron or John Ashbery?

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

John_Ashbery_2_by_David_ShankboneGil_Scott_Heron

(Left: Ashbery. Right: Scott-Heron.)

Twin strands of American poetry. Two poles. Divergent extremes.

One up from the street, taking poetry to the people.

The other representing a withdrawal behind fortress bastions of the academy.

John Ashbery, RIP. Harvard, Columbia, Fulbright. Partisan Review. The New Yorker magazine.

Was Ashbery’s success an intentional reaction, by the literary establishment, against the threat of Rexroth and Ginsberg– against the populist energy, the accessible strong language of the Beats?

Accolades for Ashbery flow in– but which poet truly, TRULY, was more important, more influential these past decades?

Ashbery or Scott-Heron?

Which poet spawned an entire popular musical genre? Which continued the Beat tradition of dynamic open mics? Which made poets and poetry exciting and relevant– breaking the mold of obscurely tame poetry sessions isolated within universities during which every audience member has fallen asleep?

The Question really comes down to: What place should poetry hold in American society?

We give here and now no answer. We’re simply asking: John Ashbery or Gil Scott-Heron? Gil Scott-Heron or John Ashbery?

What Are the Limits?

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Ezra_Pound

With recent moves by activists to ban public display or honor to all known racists and fascists– actions overwhelmingly backed by the U.S. literary community– what do we do with historically important American poet Ezra Pound?

After all, Pound supported Italy’s fascist government during World War II. He made radio broadcasts in Italy during the war, at the connivance of the Italian government. “Fascist” is a much overused term. Given his connection to the historical Fascist government, if anyone deserves the designation, Pound does.

At the end of the war, Ezra Pound was arrested by the U.S. military. At one point he was left, like a wild animal, in a cage on a hot airport runway– for hours. Back in the United States he was charged with treason. Pound was eventually judged to be insane and committed for over ten years to a mental institution in Washington D.C. (During times of national hysteria, anyone who bucks overwhelming public consensus must be insane. We may be in one of those periods now.)

Ezra Pound was a fascist. He was also one of the most important figures in American literary history. Pound was mentor, tutor, advisor, supporter, and editor to giant literary figures such as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway. As an editor and poet, Ezra Pound invented Modernist poetry. Along with writers like Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, he revolutionized the English language. The full extent of Pound’s influence on American– and world– literature is incalculable.

Ezra Pound will without question make this tournament. Likely soon. Our question: Should he?

Will it give honor to fascist ideas by honoring– with his presence in our tournament– a fascist?

Will it be a provocation? A hate-filled act?

When it comes to restraint of expression and speech, what are the limits?

Where does one draw the line?

 

T.S. Eliot Question RESOLVED

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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(T.S. Eliot drawing by Simon Fieldhouse.)

AFTER much research, discussion, and introspection, we’ve come to a resolution regarding the question of whether T.S. Eliot is a British or American citizen– and whether, or not, he can be accepted into the brackets of the Tournament.

The first fact to consider is that Eliot is in the Academy of American Poets.

The second fact is that the British Library (www.bl.uk) lists T.S. Eliot as an American poet.

The third fact is that the Encyclopedia Britannica calls Eliot an American-English poet– which is fence straddling.

Finally there’s a quote on the matter from T.S. Eliot himself, which appears in a number of places online, including at wikipedia:

“I’d say that my poetry has obviously more in common with my distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written in my generation in England. That I’m sure of. …  in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America.”

The preponderance of evidence says that– though he became a British citizen, T.S. Eliot considered himself an American poet.

Therefore he will be in the Tournament.
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The Strange Case of Thomas Stearns Eliot

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

T.S. Eliot

Poetry icon T.S. Eliot, originally penciled in for either a #4 or #5 seed in our tourney brackets, did indeed become a British citizen, in 1927– renouncing his U.S. citizenship in so doing.

One would think that being an American writer involves, at minimum, identifying oneself AS American.
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As important, we’ve received word that Mr. Eliot has no plans to attend the Tournament! (We’re still negotiating this aspect.)

The question’s on our mind
We ponder all the time

With so many writers to squeeze into 64 spots, do we include Thomas Stearns Eliot as one of them?

If anyone cares to make the case for Eliot as an American writer, DO SO. We’ll gladly post it. 300 words. newpoplitATgmail.

Report from the Venue

boxing ring

There’s a palpable buzz in town today. People suspect something big may occur. I figure they’ve heard the loud voices coming from the Selection Committee room. But there’ve been other happenings. Among them:

-Several mysterious writer figures have booked into the Grand Hotel.

-The Poetry community, practitioners of the art who’ve taken up residence in the area, have undergone a change in mood. Initially euphoric that one of their number was the second name chosen, they’ve now dropped, as is their nature, to the other extreme. Speculation exists that it’ll be many seeds before another poet makes the brackets. I’ve heard grumbling. “Where’s Eliot?” they’ve asked. “At least Eliot! Or Poe? How can you leave out Poe?” I don’t tell them that Poe’s entry, when it occurs, will have more to do with his fabulous stories than his poetry.

-The poets are especially ticked-off at sudden rumors that T.S. Eliot isn’t even American! (More about that controversy upcoming.)

-At the same time, a coffeeshop is poised to open at the end of the main street. Poetry advocates have been seen inside, directing workmen. There’ve been arguments about where to place the tables. Poets, as is their nature, seldom agree about anything. The poets must see the coffeeshop as a way to lobby for their kind. Poets have been known to host impromptu readings at such places.

-The Big Four have been conveniently sent out of town to scout for pine trees. Good American pine will be needed to construct the outdoor arena in which the matches will take place. Before they left, Herman Melville was seen to duck quickly back into the Grand Hotel, possibly to see one of the new visitors. All is speculation! Then the four left. Hemingway was grinning, impossibly happy to be with his new compatriots. They’re supposed to locate tracts of pine, but word in town is that instead they’ve gone hunting and fishing.

-Some of the writers– Joyce Carol Oates among them– have located an exercise room in the basement of the old hotel. I dropped in to take a look. It’s not at all like a modern gym, but instead has equipment last used in the 19th century– dumbbells and boxing gloves. When I glanced around I saw Mary McCarthy, or someone who looked like Mary McCarthy, using the heavy gloves to punch out a silhouette of Lillian Hellman. Oates watched, egging the burgundy-haired woman on. “Bunny” Wilson the lit critic– an extreme longshot to make the event– stood by as well.

emily-dickinson painting

-Emily D, overwhelmed by the excitement of past days, has taken to her room. She’s assured me through her new friend, Sylvia Plath, that she’ll be back as guest commentator as soon as she’s able.

-In the meantime we’ve been forced to take on as Emily’s temporary replacement, Norman Mailer. He must sense that he’ll not be chosen in the next few brackets, and so has time on his hands, is eager for any way to gain the spotlight. (Also upset that the “OPA! protesters have switched their attention to the Big Four instead of him.) Or, as he explained to me,

“I reluctantly concluded that with the inevitable reaction against maleness, of which I’m of course the embodiment, as well as being the essentially pre-eminent literary figure of his time, I, Mailer, caught in this really predictable and shitty existential crisis of identity, this primordial mentality truly American, American-ness sense of existential angst– dread, dread!– the mountains of critical response to this figure Mailer who’s always stood independently for this instinctively pure essence of writer, I say essence because it’s so anally basic, this maw of warm shit excreting itself from the corpus of the art, the community, expressing itself against this symbol of male willness, I, Mailer. . . .”

This isn’t what he said exactly. I’m giving a shortened facsimile. If I were to post his full explanation for why he’s signed on as a substitute commentator, I wouldn’t have enough space.

Even Mailer senses the electricity in the streets. That something, as early as tonight, is about to break. We hope to be able to give a report, as well as an announcement of the #2 seeds, within the next several days.

The Press Conference! Part I

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

microphone at lectern

THE PRESS CONFERENCE

As we prepare to introduce the four bigs– #1 seeds– to the expectant crowd, we look around for our newly booked commentator, Emily Dickinson (“Emily D”). We notice she’s been cornered by Norm Mailer (our other commentator candidate), who while clenching and unclenching his fists and talking nonstop is explaining to Emily why he should’ve been a commentator, as well as a top seed and up on that stage. We think, Emily! Emily D is very talented and very cute, but she’s not very worldly.

The Four are invited to step to the microphone to make a few remarks.

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Hem fishing

Ernest Hemingway: “It was an honor. It was a surprise but it was also an honor. It was not a surprise at all but he said it was because he didn’t want people thinking he wasn’t humble. It was easier to be humble. He didn’t want to think about not being humble.”

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Walt Whitman

(Editor’s note: Whitman has quite the contingent of young poetry groupies in the audience.)

Walt Whitman: “You who celebrate bygones! I, habitan of a cemetary in Camden, treating of himself as he is in his cups, Chanter of verse, I project the history of this contest, the great pride of this man in himself, Cheerful– knowing this man Walt Whitman will win.”

(Enthusiastic applause.)

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Herman Melville: (Melville declines the opportunity to speak, but instead remains in his chair on stage, puffing on a pipe and observing the proceedings like a bemused sea captain surprised to be on land.)

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Mark_Twain_young other

Mark Twain: “I had a lurking suspicion that Ernie Hemingway was a myth, that there never was such a fantastic personage. I asked old Wheeler about him, and he said it reminded him of the infamous Jim Hemingway last seen flexing his neck muscles around the barroom stove in Algonac due south and over a bridge from here. Big-bearded big-headed Jim backed Wheeler into a corner then sat him down and reeled off a monotonous narrative about flyfishing in a river not ten miles from this very spot. A fishing story, we used to call it. The one that got away. But no fishing story like the one Herm Melville on this stage has been known to tell.” (Twain takes a puff from his own pipe.) “Fishing stories! You propose to defeat this old riverboat captain with fishing stories. Good luck.”
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(Editor’s note.)

In this town’s local barroom afterward, three of the Big Four stand around a stove telling yarns. Across from me, Emily D sips from sherry in a glass, the sherry the color of her eyes. “I taste a liquor never brewed,” she confides.

I’ve known many poets and they’re a strange bunch.

“What do you think of this event so far?” I ask, gesturing toward where Mark Twain holds court, where even Melville joins the group and silently listens, four giant men in the small wood room– Mailer trying to butt into the conversation rises barely to the others’ shoulders. Emily gazes around the little tavern.

“Such a delirious whirl!” she says.

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“Part II” will be a quick Press Conference wrap-up. Stay tuned.