Sunday, May 13, 2007

DPP6 Results

This time, I have been busy with the Basel visit of Matthew Sweeney, who came to the Songs and Poems class on Friday morning and did a workshop yesterday afternoon with my Thin Raft writing group. So I have had no time until now to post the results of week 6 of the Daily Poem Project.

The class voted on Friday morning, and the result was overwhelming: Kevin McFadden's "The Ides of Amer-I-Can" received seven votes of twelve votes cast—far and away the most conclusive result until now in the class voting.

Several bloggers voted for McFadden's poem as well, but not enough for it to win. 15 votes were cast for six different poems, with the following top three:

4 votes:
Robin Ekiss, "Vanitas Mundi"

3 votes each:
Susan Stewart, "The Lost Colony"
Gabriel Fried, "Traveling Fair"

It was pointed out to me (by Don) that the comments posted by the blog voters are hard to find. They are at the end of the call for votes. I'll quote from a few of them here:

Duncan wrote: "While I Think Fried And Longenbach seem to be aware of the decadence of all native-language traditions, only Skoyles transcends it with his compassionte disillusion.So he as my vote."

Don wrote a lengthy comment, as usual, vigorous, thoughtful, and direct:

I suppose it's heartening that the poems this week all involve some kind of soul-searching about the current malaise of America, but... I'm not very convinced by any of them.

More interesting to me is what difference an opening makes. The first two stanzas of #38, Ekiss' "Vanitas Mundi" are so good, then it gets tedious with examples not really cohering -- and the "war on terror" reference is just clumsy (Borat already made the point more effectively, "We are supporting your war of terror"). Longenbach's "A Different Route" begins badly (parts 1 and 2), gets better (parts 3 and 4), then ends in some middling place between the two.

McFadden's "The Ides of Amer-I-Can" is so dismal I don't want to talk about it, and Gerber's "Bodhisattva" does nothing for me; Skoyles' "The Wish Mind" seems to me in search of a dominant idea, but any poem that tries to "define" Eternity isn't likely to capture my imagination. The librarian verse was the only one I really liked, but I don't see what "eternity" has to do with it.

So, that leaves me with Stewart's "The Lost Colony" (#36) and Fried's "Traveling Fair" (#41). Stewart's is interesting, deft, but it starts to lose grace with "had ranks / and staff and lecterns, / machines that moved them / from place to place," and the young/old lines seem kind of beside the point. Really like the ending line though.

That could win, but I'm going to surprise myself by voting for #41. It's not the kind of thing I usually go for (so slice of life), but I think, in its attempt to explore clichés of American midwest life, it gets at something more relevant to all this red/blue stuff. And the second stanza (this is important) begins with some of the best writing: "These are moments of slack, of wander, / of full reversion to the old calm: / the feel of dough and pleasure of ascension." And the ending feels truly worried to me, not like that grandiose opening of Longenbach's or the cheap shot at "war on terror" in Ekiss (who are both probably better poets, in a sense, than Fried).

My vote: #41 [Fried], runner-up: #36 [Stewart].

"dhsh" wrote: "Well, without TOO much difficulty,I narrowed it down to TWO, #40 and #42. Then I hemmed and hawed awhile longer,and finally chose just ONE, #40 ... for its brevity, sharp focus, and real-world-truth-liness (even though #42 has greater appeal to me in several other ways)." [#40 = Gerber, #42 = Longenbach]

Bruce Loebrich posted a ranked list:

38. Robin Ekiss, "Vanitas Mundi"
36. Susan Stewart, "The Lost Colony"
42. James Longenbach, "A Different Route"
37. Kevin McFadden, "The Ides of Amer-I-Can"
39. John Skoyles, "The Wish Mind"
41. Gabriel Fried, "Traveling Fair"
40. Dan Gerber, "Bodhisattva"

As for me, I voted for Gabriel Fried's "Traveling Fair." After a first reading of the seven poems, I had eliminated only one from contention. The other six all seemed successful in various ways, although none of them seemed wholly perfect. I was surprised that a second, careful reading solved the issue for me so clearly: Fried's poem seemed to me to be the one that most clearly succeeds in doing what it sets out to do. It has a feel that is often frowned upon these days, at least in many poetic circles: the first stanza lays out a scene, while the second interprets it. There are many reasons to be wary of that kind of interpretation in a poem, but Fried handles it beautifully.
McFadden's five stanzas were each successful, but I did not feel that the poem worked as a whole. And as for the blog winner, Ekiss, she was also on my long short-list, and I was considering her poem quite seriously when I suddenly swung to Fried upon rereading his.

We're halfway through the project, and here are the finalists for the blog vote, up to now (the numbers refer to the weeks):

1. Christian Wiman, "The River"
2. Tom Sleigh, "Blueprint"
3. Jessica Fisher, "The Promise of Nostos"
4. Allen Grossman, "A Gust of Wind"
5. Laure-Anne Bosselaar, "Friends"
6. Robin Ekiss, "Vanitas Mundi"

For comparison, here are the winners of the first six weeks of voting by the class (poems that tied for first are given letters along with the week numbers):

1. Derek Walcott, "The Castaway"
2a. C. D. Wright, "Dear night dear shade dear executioner"
2b. Elizabeth Bradfield, "Industry"
2c. Paul Zimmer, "Suck It Up"
3. Josephine Dickinson, "The Bargain"
4a. Mike Dockins, "Poem of Low Latitudes"
4b. Janice N. Harrington, "Shaking the Grass"
5. Laure-Anne Bosselaar, "Friends"
6. Kevin McFadden, "The Ides of Amer-I-Can"

Results of previous weeks:
Week One
Week Two
Week Three
Week Four

Week Five

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