Latest Tournament Selections

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

frost(Photo of a young Robert Frost.)

Have the Tournament judges had it with novelists? This seems to be the case with the latest selections, the #5 seeds, all poets.

A.)  T.S. Eliot

Once THE biggest name in the poetry game– “The Wasteland” remains, perhaps, the most famous of all American poems.

B.)  Robert Frost

Talk about famous poems by famous poets. The title “The Road Not Taken” has become part of the national conversation. For decades Robert Frost was the widely-known face of poetry in America.

C.)  Maya Angelou

mayapensive

For a couple decades until her death in 2014 Maya Angelou was the face of American poetry– aided by her performances at Presidential inaugurals. Who’ll rise to the forefront to replace her?

D.)  Allen Ginsberg

This beat poet’s entry into the “Most Famous American Poem” sweepstakes is “Howl.” An audacious bid for greatness. Allen Ginsberg never came close to writing another poem with similar impact.

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Letter from an Activist

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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(Editor’s Note: We’ve received this poem in reaction to our choice of Ezra Pound as one of the writers to appear in the tournament.)

“Ode to Dead White Male Poets” by Cherry Bomb

NO fossilized memories lapsed
No comfortable trust fund hangers-on
who jumped on the change bandwagon
when the key founders were corrupted, co-opted, or gone.

NO designated set-aside protest areas,
regulated dissident zones
of tenured professors
defanged and neutered,
leashes brought from home.

NO inert fake po-biz foes barking bravely on computers
in their bedrooms,
bunny rabbit slippers.
By 2040 they’ll be ready to move;
(Make that 2047, if all goes well.)

NO Nazis, no fascists
No dead white male assholes,
No waiting for revolution
Meanwhile being jailed,
or jelloed into quivering dessert.

NO past, no tomorrow,
no what-might-have-been sorrow
Only resistance
Upturn the System
Overthrow the pig patriarchal pet poets past or present,
NOW!

-Signed, Cherry Bomb, Assistant Director, OPA!
(Outraged Protestors Against!)
@outragedprotest

 

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#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.

Gil Scott-Heron or John Ashbery?

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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(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?

Specialists

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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(Pictured: O. Henry.)
The Tournament is open to specialists of any variety. One-book authors have a chance– if the book is a great one.

We won’t exclude anyone for being just a short story writer. We value the short story. We love it. We see the short story as literature’s future. Its way to break out of its snobby neighborhood. Its exclusive ghetto.

It’d be like excluding rock n’ roll singers with strings of hit singles but no important album from the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. It’d be an outrage. (See Chubby Checker and Tommy James.)

Neither should poets be excluded for being just poets. Or playwrights excluded for being merely playwrights.

Novelists are valued by critics highest of all writers of the past 150 years– but the novel is overrated. Few novels can truly be said to be gems of art. Truly accomplished works of art. Most are time fillers.

(The Great Gatsby is a gem of a novel, but it’s not the greatest American novel.)

Some few novels are time-filling compelling reads– but more.

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Katherine Anne Porter was a talented short story writer who wrote a novel because she felt she had to.

The novel, Ship of Fools, isn’t a bad novel. Neither is it enough of an achievement to place her into the Tournament. If Katherine Anne Porter makes the Tournament it will be because of her short stories. And her novellas.

Raymond Carver never wrote a novel, but this isn’t enough of a factor to keep him out of the Tournament.

Other factors will likely keep him out of the Tournament.
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TRIVIA QUESTION: What do writers O. Henry and Katherine Anne Porter have in common aside from fact both were American and both specialized in the short story form?

(First correct answer wins a free batch of New Pop Lit postcards.)

What Are the Limits?

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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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?

 

The #3 Bracket Seeds

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Do we again go too far back into the past for our choices? Remember, these are seedings. Any one of these writers– or all of them– could easily be knocked out in the Tournament itself.
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Tennessee Williams

A.)  Tennessee Williams.  “Stella!” Among American playwrights, one stands above the rest– creating timeless characters such as Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski, Big Daddy and Maggie the Cat. Combining pathos and passion with measured pace and memorable dialogue. The words, the lines, wait only for capable actors to speak them.

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B.)  Jack London.  Uniquely American yet also read and loved around the globe. His colorful tales, whether set in South Sea islands or the Yukon, are simple, basic, brutal and real. They translate to any culture. No one wrote better short stories. His novels aren’t quite as good– except when they’re about dogs! Jack London was the greatest literary populist. His work, from Call of the Wild on, defined pop writing.

We have one of London’t stories– one of his best: “Lost Face.”

Note how the main character may have been modeled on fellow adventurer and adventure writer Joseph Conrad.
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Poe

C.)  Edgar Allan Poe.  We originally considered two other names for this slot. Henry James or William Faulkner? William Faulkner or Henry James? Gigantic literary reputations. But another classic American author deserves to make the brackets ahead of both of them. Poe– who invented the detective genre and perfected the horror genre, for good or ill. He was also a terrific poet. AND, as a student of the literary art, he understood the importance of momentum in narrative, building in intensity toward an explosive end. (See “William Wilson,” “Ligeia,” others.)

In many ways, Edgar Allan Poe invented pop literature.
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emily-dickinson painting

D.)  Emily Dickinson.  “Emily D” is one of the characters in the fictional aspect of this tournament. Though publicly unknown while alive, today Dickinson is one of the biggest names in the history of American poetry. Maybe the biggest. After 130 years her poems more than hold up. Real, direct, witty, sharp– a surprising amount of it. Her reputation: solid.
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Part of our task with the Tournament is to determine which writers will continue to be read– those whose work remains alive– and those whose reputations, however impressive now, will fall by the wayside. These means considering how changes in the ways literature is read or heard– whether smartphones, e-books, or audio books– will impact the literary art itself.

The work of these four wonderful talents has universal qualities. If Jack London’s stories remain widely read in China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia– everywhere– if they translate across borders, one can guess they’ll translate across eras. Note the clarity and immediacy of London’s writing in “Lost Face.” Part of our calculation is that the short story will gain in popularity and prominence– this has begun happening, as if it were designed for new devices and different mediums. The best, most “pop” poetry will easily translate as well, which puts Dickinson and Poe in great shape for new worlds of reading and literature to come.

On the other hand, overwrought “literary” work which presents a barrage of verbiage may not fare well. We’ll be covering that topic. . . .