The philosopher Benjamin Paul Blood (1832-1918) wrote the following to William James:
“Philosophy is past. It was the long endeavor to logicize what we can only realize practically or in immediate experience.”
The experiment of March Madness has been interesting. We have examined whether or not poetry, like the philosophy portrayed in Blood’s essay, “Pluriverse: An Essay in the Philosophy of Pluralism,” can be known best if we become profoundly self-conscious as poets and readers in a group dynamics medium in which immediate experience and practicality are pushed to their limits within that context.
20,000 fans, spilling soda and popcorn, screaming at the top of their lungs in response to a contest between, let’s say, “The Year” by Janet Bowdan, a 16th seed! and “Sunday, Tarzan In His Hammock” by Lewis Buzbee, upset winner over Mary Oliver’s fifth seeded “Flare” in first round play in the West Bracket, experienced the poem in such an intense manner—however the partisanship might have expressed itself—that the delight based on the pure excitement itself propeled the imaginative response—which has always relied on a certain suspension of disbelief—to new heights, in which the suspension of disbelief was simultaneously extended and dismantled by the crowd.
The vision of this collective consciousness, at once critical, reflective and wholly reactive, is not meant to be defined here as a definitive vision, nor should the results of these contests fill anyone with either joy or dismay. Combatants, were these none. The riotous fans have been, and were, you and I; once a mob, now a critic, once weeping and hollering, now holding steadily the iron pen. Let the tattooing begin.
How shall we describe Janet Bowdan’s “The Year?” How shall we describe her victory? How shall we describe the young fan, who, in a fit of ecstacy, nearly fell from the top of the stadium upon the heads of the throng below, this young worshiper of this terrible and haunting poem? How to describe the look of Buzbee in defeat, Tarzan and Jane beside him, the barely comprehending Cheetah on Tarzan’s shoulder, looking wildly around?
We sought out Bowdan for an interview, but she was gone. The crowd had carried her away.
Earlier, at the crack of dawn, with a youngish Wordsworth showered and shaved, Billy Collins advanced to the center of our beloved March Madness court, the polished wood of the court gleaming, the clever concession stands spread around, and dominated Stephen Dunn, making sure he couldn’t breathe for a second. “John Donne, eh? Are you done?’ The voice of the haughty no. 2 seed in the East resounded for eons after Dunn’s poem was read. We have to go back years before we find a game that was like this, or, find any game. The gods were, of course, anxious. Rules, there were none. The fans were not silent for a moment. The rooting was astonishing.
Bernard Welt’s “I stopped writing poetry…” plied poetry long into the evening, almost as if to send Reb Livingston away, but she stood her guard, unblinking. Some fans in the second half had a revelation and got the brilliance of Welt’s trope: the reasons he gave for not writing poetry were actually powerful incentives to write poetry, and this was the fuel of the poem itself, but the commotion in the second balcony as Livingston was shooting her free-throws was lost on the broadcasters—they ignored it, thinking it was just the crowd being a crowd, a 190 line poem being a 190 line poem, and fans on the floor only saw it in separate parts. Some Welt fans ran outside, but it was too late. Livingston was stoic as Welt’s voltage melted.
William Kulik dazzled with a ferocity not seen yet in the tournament and Margaret Atwood froze with a searching look. Kulik started to tick tick tick as soon as the contest started, the moss covered walls closed in, and no matter how hard Atwood looked, the drama of Kulik continued to drown.
“Bored” is sure of itself, as Atwood is; she was tranformed by Kulik into what went sadly down into the shadows.
The crowd implored those shadows.
Don’t trust crowds, they say.
We trusted this one.
Tom, this is Marla Muse, down at courtside…the crowd has seen four thrillers and they want more…this is how poetry should be…I’m being lifted by this crowd and that’s how I like it…I’m looking for my little notebook….have you seen it?
No, Marla, I haven’t.