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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melville profile
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.

*******

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

The Last Underground Poet

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WHEN in Philadelphia recently, we touched base with old friend and colleague Frank D. Walsh. His work is hard to come by online, so when I say he’s the best poet Philly has produced in the last 40 years, you might not believe me. As quick evidence I can give only a link to a few poems at an Irish literary site, including this one:

http://www.deaddrunkdublin.com/poems/frank_walsh/complaynt.html

What makes a master at the poetic art?

It’s the poet with every tool in his poetry toolkit. The person who can throw in offbeat rhymes, multiple allusions in a phrase or word, rhythms of every kind, and give the listener or reader enough wordplay to make the experience fascinating, even wonderful. John Berryman would do this on occasion, as would Ezra Pound. Shakespeare was the master of masters at the art. At his best, Walsh attains that company.

Why Frank Walsh hasn’t received the attention he deserves may have something to do with his integrity. To quote Frank Norris: “I never truckled; I never took off the hat to Fashion and held it out for pennies.” Anyone who’s met Walsh knows his outspokenness– not an advantageous asset in a literary world of cronyism and connections, maintained via backslapping and glad-handing. A poetry world filled with posturing frauds, which Frank Walsh is not.

He’s paid a price for it– lives underground for real– but maintains his optimism. “It’s all material” for his writing, he said about his hardships. A mindset for all writers.

(Photo of Frank Walsh snapped at famed Philadelphia watering hole McGlinchey’s.)

Fun Pop Poetry #26

statue-liberty-planet-of-apes

“Americans” by Ellsworth B. Smith

America in armed camps
We say to that, “No thanks!”
We’ll pitch our tent between them,
Can love ’em or can leave ’em;

We treat each person just the same
Was once the American dream
to be color-blind and free
To fearlessly have your honest say,
open to all you see;

Now hysteria rules the day
Hot-head crowds do stomp and bray
Shutting down displeasing speech
They fill the streets with clamor loud
Good will dismissed;
We’d like to flee to closest cloud!

Call us idealistic
Tell us we’re naive
to think we’re all one nation,
black, white, red or green,
Doesn’t make us racist
(or sexist, phobic et.al.)
Despite what Khmer boys
trapped in ideology
would try with schooled minds to believe;

America the beautiful,
America the free;
Let’s get beyond our different flaws
Each one of us with unique cause
And say with ONE voice united, strong:
“Can’t we all just get along?”

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(Send your rhymin’ or stylin’ poems to funpoppoetry@gmail.com.)

Fun Pop Poetry #25

church-for-story

“Hallelujah Trail” by David Lohrey

People brag about the religious experiences.
They feel something, they tell us,
When they’re taking a crap. But
They won’t go to church.

Baseball, they say, is a kind of religion.
They are believers. Some are truer
Than others; they tell us that, too.
Why can’t they just use the toilet?

Others like to fornicate in the pews.
They’re in search of religion, they
Tell us. They don’t find it when
Praying, but they are true believers.
Call them devout. Their theatre
Is the Broadway musical. The priest:
Al Jolson. Last year: Bette Midler.
Now: Lady Gaga.

They’re gamblers. They don’t like
Religion, they tell us. Spirituality,
Yes, that. They’re very spiritual,
Especially when their stocks
Are rising. They’re very spiritual
But they love money.

They don’t like the institution. They
Like to sleep around, too. They’re
Against marriage, but they’re
Into true love. They prefer it free
Since it’s so valuable. If they
Can’t have it, they’ll take it.
They’ll give it away, often
To the highest bidder.
This generation of malcontents and
Rebels will say anything to feel better.
They’d learn to play the xylophone if they
Could play stoned. They’re stumbling
Through grad school and got low marks
In 3rd grade. They’re catching up
Now but never studied Latin.

They walk around with their
Mouths hanging open.
They complain a lot, especially
When their coffee isn’t hot.
They pride themselves on their
Needs. When they’re passed over
At the audition, they storm out,
Cursing. They’ll never sing again.

They threaten now to take
Their grievances to the street.
It’s high noon. The kids without a future
Hope to be noticed. The entire world
Is like Schwab’s Drug Store.
Maybe they’ll be seen crying at
The counter and be cast as
Zombies in next year’s
Blockbuster. They have lots of
Experience. They can play the part.
All they have to do is look
Vacant.

 

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(Send your provocative and/or fun poetry to funpoppoetry@gmail.com.)

Fun Pop Poetry #24

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More Topical Poetry from Bruce Dale Wise

“High-minded Elevants and Asstronuts” by Wilbur Dee Case

“…all true believers break their eggheads at the convenient end.”
—paraphrase of Reldresal, in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift

For some time, there have been two fighting factions in this land.
They’re called the Elevants and Asstronuts, you understand.
They are distinguished by what they have soaring in their minds;
and both are sure they have the highest thoughts one can opine.
The animosities between these parties run so high;
at times one can discover their ideas in the sky.
They vex each other so, they will not eat, nor drink, nor talk
together, and would rather undergo electroshock.
And in the midst of these superlative, high-flying piques,
they both are threatened by exploding, rocket-riding freaks.

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(Send your topical and/or fun poem to funpoppoetry@gmail.com.)