We enter the final genre round of the Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft with the oldest of the genres, the most inscrutable, the one with the most wild things and the tallest hats. The genre where the sidewalk ends with water water everywhere but not a drop to drink.
One nugget of interest entering this penultimate round is that Emily Dickinson, the winner of Powell’s Poetry Madness bracket, which wrapped up last month, has already been selected! Manager Benjamin Samuel may have made a prescient pick by adding the poet to his roster as a wildcard Events Coverage blogger. He has, in effect, stolen top talent from this round. Let’s see if that affected any of the bloggers.
Editor: Robert Silvers
Fiction Writer: Donald Barthelme
Philosopher: Iris Murdoch
Nonfiction Writer: Marguerite Young
With the twenty-fifth pick in the Ploughshares Leave it to Cheever selects Paul Carroll:
Justin Alvarez on his team’s selection:
Not all “players” bask in the spotlight; some shine in the background, a supporting castmember—great in his or her own right—that cheers from the bench. (Because what is a star without its champions?) Paul Carroll may be best remembered for the writers he championed—Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsberg—but his passion for poetry was fervent, not only in founding the Poetry Center of Chicago, and his teaching, but also in his own work. Whether his poetry was published or not, according to Carroll’s wife, “he kept on writing, rocking and rolling with the words”—he wrote poetry every day until his death in 1996. Carroll is not only someone you can trust, but someone that will always have your back.
Leave it to Cheever continues its selection of strong players with extreme commitment to their genres. Carroll is a great addition to this team: nothing could keep him from putting out poetry that needed to be published, first in the Chicago Review and then in Big Table when administrators balked at the content of the Winter 1959 issue.
Editor: Toni Morrison
Fiction Writer: Ben Lerner
Gossip Columnist: Jeffrey Eugenides
Nonfiction Writer: William Gass
With the twenty-sixth pick, Buckle Your Corn Belts select Rita Dove:
Managers Joumanata Khatib and Marty Kezon explain their draft rationale:
For our Poet Pick, we have decided to choose Rita Dove. We admire how effortlessly Dove can hit home—and not simply because (as a native of Akron, OH) she truly could not get much closer to our own home. Her work has consistently showcased a commitment to finding the individual in the face of history, and we believe this powerful and sensitive attention will help us find voices dealing with what it means to be a person in history right now. As Poet Laureate, she worked to expand public interest in literature—and she was one of the first Laureates to see this as her main function. Still deeply involved and invested in the ever-changing literary world three decades after her first book of poems and two decades after her laureateship, Dove has declared her lasting presence. She knows what she is doing, and we are excited for the experience and ambition that she has to offer.
Strong pick here. Dove took down James Tate, Tony Hoagland, and Li-Young Lee before being bested by Mary Oliver in the Poetry Madness bracket. She should have no problem helping Toni Morrison balance the boys on this team. It doesn’t hurt that she was also the youngest poet ever to be chosen Poet Laureate. She also appears to be making some poetry covertly on Twitter:
Editor: Dave Eggers
Fiction Writer: William Faulkner
Cultural Critic: Roxane Gay
Nonfiction Writer: Michel Montaigne
With the twenty-seventh pick, The Holden Caulbabies select Elizabeth Bishop:
Manager Michael Nye on his pick:
Looking over the literary canon, there comes a point, usually around the war (I say this and I always mean World War II, which is what other people seem to mean; when will this stop?), when there is less certainty about what is “good” and what should be read. When it comes to poetry, The Holden Caulbabies want profound over prolific, and in conversations about contemporary poetry, I’m not sure any American poet is better. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the national Book Award, Bishop is a private, vulnerable, sensitive person, which provides wonderful balance for our team. Her poetry is majestic and enthralling, the details perfect, the rhythm and diction precise.
Bishop was another strong performer in Poetry Madness, upsetting Wallace Stevens and taking down Adrienne Rich before being defeated by Yeats. And the addition here to the Caulbabies feels like an excellent move since Bishop’s language and metaphors can become “frighteningly clear,” a nice contrast with the Faulkner pick.
Editor: George Plimpton
Fiction Writer: Kurt Vonnegut
Events Coverage: Emily Dickinson
Nonfiction Writer: Werner Herzog
With the twenty-eighth pick, The Mighty Duck Palahniuks select Melissa Broder:
Benjamin Samuel on his team’s selection:
Writers need better marketing. For instance, we’ve mostly dispelled the perception of fiction writers being cast in tweed, only to now view them as figures forged in MFA programs. Poets and playwrights suffer from stereotypes of their own—angst bound in dark clothing and confusing sentence structures. But Melissa Broder is a different kind of writer. She’s a poet and a publicist. A soldier and a general. I doubt you’d find her at a poetry slam, but you’d be fortunate to find her on your side in a street fight. Melissa shatters that old paradigm of the reclusive, delicate, and misunderstood poet, but classy enough to make Bukowski feel ashamed of himself. She is grit and truth. She is savage and insightful. She is my poetry draft pick.
Another bold pick for the Ducks, this time a savage, insightful, and prolific Tweeter of striking images and concepts, and a well published poet to boot. Broder is the most internet savvy poet picked thus far and the first for this team as well, which should pay off in the competition.
Editor: Max Perkins
Fiction Writer: Virginia Woolf
Advice Columnist: Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction Writer: Roberto Bolano
With the twenty-night pick, Vonnegut to the Chopper! selects Langston Hughes:
Manager Brenna Dixon on her selection:
Langston Hughes, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, championed jazz poetry—the kind of rhythmic, improv poetry that lived on in the Beat poets and exists today in hip-hop and slam poetry. With the creation of jazz poetry, Langston Hughes changed poetry and music and performance art forever. He removed poetry from the confines of structure and allowed it fluidity. In other words, let’s just go ahead and thank Mr. Hughes for inspiring the “founding fathers” of rap music. Without Langston Hughes there’d be no Ginsberg, no Kerouac, no Biggie Smalls. We’d be living in a world that never knew Tupac. Think about it: No Langston Hughes. No Tupac. Or who knows. Maybe he would’ve gotten famous rapping in villanelles.
Although Hughes was not the first “social poet,” he definitely recognized the ability of art and “adventure” to create change in the world: “…when poems stop talking about the moon and begin to mention poverty, trade unions, color lines, and colonies, somebody tells the police.”
Editor: John Martin
Fiction Writer: Boris Vian
Social Media Director: Dorothy Parker
Nonfiction Writer: Geoff Manaugh
With the thirtieth pick, What the Chuckin’ Buk?! selects Kahlil Gibran:
In a strange way, the Internet is an ideal spot for poetry consumption. It’s a place where perfectly composed snippets and memorably phrased knowledge nuggets can be seen and shared in an instant; oftentimes, a well-timed, well-put verse can provide a much-needed “aha!” or “ahhh” moment amongst all the rest of the online noise. Lebanese philosopher, artist, and writer Kahlil Gibran’s thoughtful insights and deep meditations on the mysteries of life and love gave his work a spiritual twist that has resonated with readers for almost a century, and modern souls searching for a hint of insight or fulfillment would no doubt appreciate the man’s deft way with words, while parsing the complexities of our strange, shared existence.
This is a savvy pick. Adding the third best-selling poet of all time (behind Shakespeare and Lao-tzu) nicely diversifies this team and gives them a personality that would be able to draw in the masses: Gibran’s death in 1931 was a worldwide event, memorialized in Boston, New York, and his home country of Lebanon. Manager Jordan Kushins is right when she notes his insight—take his thoughts on love, for example: “When love beckons to you follow him, / Though his ways are hard and steep.”
The commissioner does not feel quite at home in this genre as he did in others, but he’s done his damnedest to pick out some of the poets who didn’t make the teams. Here are five who were left behind:
5. Dr. Seuss – The commissioner warned you that he was out of his league with this genre! But if Seuss’s wordplay came packaged with his cartooning, then this could have been a strong pick—all blogs benefit from images to break up the text, and Seuss could make some great ones.
4. Li Bai – Along with Du Fu, Li Bai is considered one of the all time great Chinese poets and was a member of the group of super-poets and booze-buddies, the “Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup.”
3. T.S. Eliot – “Old Possum” himself, a poet who was at home with cats or more Modernist stylings. This is how the blog ends, with a comments section so we may Disqus.
2. Dante – The geographer of the underworld. If only he could get royalties every time someone referred to a certain “circle of Hell” being reserved for X or Y. He would be one rich poet.
1. Mary Ruefle – I had to go contemporary and flexible here, and Ruefle’s lovely verse and striking lyric essays would fit perfectly on a blog format. Take, for example, some of the erasure books on her website. They are striking.
Do you agree with the commissioner and the team managers here? Which poets would you have chosen? Feel free to lash us with your poetic rage in the comments below. And check back in next week for the final round of picks, another wildcard round.