When will poetry be No. 1?
Everybody knows there’s cheating in poetry. Jorie Graham, as public contest judge, picked poetry by students and friends.
Shameful. And silly, because someone winning a contest and getting a book published doesn’t do anything for poetry.
There’s no drama. We don’t get to see the losers cry and gnash their teeth. We don’t get to see the winners celebrate. We don’t even see the losers. We don’t even know who they are. And there can’t really be a winner worth the name if the losers aren’t visible. That’s the problem with poetry. The tragedies and triumphs are completely hidden.
All we see are books with boring blurbs on them.
Where’s the blood and the glory?
Does anyone really believe, or care, about blurbs?
Of course not.
Where’s the trash talk?
Jorie Graham had a pretty face. Po-biz should have worked hard to make her the face of poetry, instead of having her work behind-the– scenes as a corrupt judge. What did that do for poetry? Nothing.
If you’re able to corrupt morals in a general way, maybe you’ll make a real name for yourself. Maybe you’ll get exiled, but you’ll be famous, really famous, one-name famous, like Ovid. If you’re going to be corrupt, do it big, so it spreads fame for your company, in this case, poetry.
What I want to see on someone’s book is: “To win this Press prize, the author beat out the following jackasses…” and pictures of the sorry losers, and blurbs ridiculing their poetry.
You want people to read poetry? You’ve got to show the winners and losers.
It would have been better if Jorie Graham had judged her own poetry as winner in contest after contest; the pure arrogance and aplomb of that act would have helped to focus poetry-stardom, making it more accessible to all.
Look at the NFL.
People love it.
But pro football was once moribund, like poetry is today. The tapes of the first two Super Bowls were erased by NBC and CBS; that’s right: no one can watch the first two Super Bowls, because they are gone forever; the networks didn’t think Super Bowls I and II were worth saving.
Now every obscure NFL fumble, concussion, and tantrum is studied by millions. The football player, Moss, is a million times more famous than the poet, Moss. Why does one moss grow under a rock, and the other moss scream in our ears?
It all began with Joe Namath and Super Bowl III. Broadcasters felt the first two Super Bowls were not worth preserving.
Even though Namath played for what was then the nearly illegitimate AFL, even though Namath was told to quit football if he did not sell his Manhattan restaurant that was frequented by mobsters, even though many in-the-know thought Super Bowl III was fixed, with the Colt QB making all sorts of questionable throws (as they say on the street, “no one can throw a game like a QB”), Super Bowl III was a spectacular success with TV-watchers.
Namath not only put a badly-needed face on the NFL, he made millions (and future billions) thanks to the legitimacy he gave to the AFL with the nearly-3 touchdown underdog Jets’ Super Bowl victory, allowing the NFL/AFL merger to occur smoothly the following season. Joe Namath’s 1969 victory put the Super Bowl on the road from an erasable item to a national institution.
The Black Sox Scandal (a thrown World Series in 1919) almost destroyed the integrity of major league baseball.
Babe Ruth and his homeruns.
Baseball officials decided to juice the ball in 1920, and baseball got its first modern homerun hitter, Babe Ruth, the season after the 1919 World Series.
The rule is: when faced with a cheating scandal or declining popularity, the only way a league can save itself is with a display of massive fireworks.
Joe Namath in 1969 was like Babe Ruth in 1920, a savior of a sport in the eyes of a fickle public.
Western poetry’s “fireworks”—in order to excite public interest—has largely consisted of not transcending scandal with firework-heroics, but embracing scandal: think of Ovid and Byron; think of the obscenity trials of Joyce’s Ulysses and Ginsberg’s Howl. If one looks for true poetry “heroics,” perhaps we’re talking of Virgil and Dante and Milton? And today, “heroics” is perhaps a poet who has been murdered by a tyrannical regime—but this is a far cry from anything which might be cynically manipulated by po-biz for its own survival.
Sexual morality can become so corrupt in society, that corrupt poets can no longer shock, or be considered scandalous.
Sports, however, to be legitimate, has to be “clean.” Not morally clean—look at the recent cases in the NFL of Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger— but free of the cheating-taint: steroids or fixed contests.
Gambling and organized crime will probably always be ‘hidden but present’ in pro sports. But as long as the sport is perceived to be clean by those who follow it for its thrill of competition, (competition is a better word, we think, than the more vague “entertainment”) most everyone is happy.
The old NFL franchises, like the Giants and Steelers, used gambling winnings as start-up funding. Vince Lombardi’s old Green Bay Packers had star players who were convicted football gamblers. But as long as these unpleasant facts remain outside the minds of the TV-viewing public, they’ll watch, with pride, what they think is sport, and not manipulated entertainment.
Heroics in sports is vital, and heroics has to seem real, not manipulated.
Poets and psychologists may understand this better than the mere fans and TV-watchers, but it’s also important for a league to have a dynasty, a great team that people can take pride in; the dynastic team gives a mysterious legitimacy to a sport. What would major league baseball be without the Yankees—a team to love, a team to admire, and a team to beat/hate? There has never been a major league sport without a dynasty: the Celtics, the Canadians, the Yankees, the Packers. It lends legitimacy to a sport in an uncanny manner. True winning cannot seem to be random or lucky, or, worst of all, the result of a fix—the latter a horror that dare not speak its name among earnest tribes of sports fans; no, winning has to be seen as the product of an ordained person, or team; winning has to have a certain inevitable, historic, almost holy aura to it.
There are two truths right now about the NFL: One: Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, is the most powerful person in the NFL. He personally negotiates major media contracts for the NFL, the current NFL commissioner was his pick, he built a football stadium with his own money, he has numerous media and corporate contacts, and he gives widely to charity. Two: Tom Brady, in a game filled with thuggish personalities, is the face of the NFL. He is tall, handsome, a winner, dates a supermodel, has a squeaky-clean reputation, and never breathes a negative word about anything in public.
Kraft was able to buy low when he acquired the Patriots (he bought the real estate before he bought the team) because they were highly unsuccesful at the time. The Patriots almost moved to St. Louis, and then Hartford, before Kraft invested a great deal of his own money to purchase the team outright. In 2000, Bill Belichick fell into the Patriots lap, even though he was going to be the coach for the New York Jets. Belichick, a convicted cheater (the NFL fined him half a million dollars) quickly brought the Patriots three Super Bowls in four years, with Tom (Face of the NFL) Brady at the helm; Brady, Belichick, and Kraft made it to their first Super Bowl by surviving a game-ending fumble by Brady in the playoffs when the “Tuck Rule” was called by an official, a bizarre, little-known rule, impossible to interpret, reversing the fumble, and saving the Patriots’ season.
After Belichick was fined for cheating, the Patriots, like major league baseball suddenly discovering the homerun ball in 1920 after the 1919 black sox scandal, erupted with a fireworks offense (never seen before, or since) and a perfect season—helped along by a number of questionable officials’ calls. Congress was threatening to investigate Spygate (the Patriots cheating scandal) in the weeks leading up to the 2008 Super Bowl—and the perfect-season, juggernaut Spygate Pats turned into a lamb, and lost.
In the 2010 season, the Patriots, with mostly rookies and second-year players, are still winning, (although every opponent marches down the field on them,) and their victories seem to be coming from fluke plays and fluke calls. The Patriots did get hammered this year by the Cleveland Browns; the Browns’ head coach once worked for Belichick—and was the coach for the Jets in the game when Belichick was caught cheating.
Speaking of the bizarre ‘Tuck Rule,’ the game of football has such fuzzy rules that fuzzy rules are the rule. When a player is ‘holding’ another, or when ‘pass interference’ really occurs are as puzzling as the infamous ‘Tuck Rule,’ never mind the question of when a player is really down, or when the ball is really dead, or was that player out-of-bounds, or was that a fumble or not (‘tuck rule,” no.)? If there’s one constant in the NFL, it’s this: teams that benefit from this fuzziness always win.
TV-watchers prepare for the game by reminding themselves of how great their favorite team’s defense or offense is, but when the game begins, suddenly it’s not a players’ game, but an officials’ game, as every other play brings some head-scratching interpretation of the “rules.”
Ex-football-player broadcasters display impotent expertise-ism as they—and often the camera—express blatant (but always harmless) consternation at the officials’ on-field rulings, rulings that dominate the contest in ratio to the degree they befuddle.
There is something comforting about the fuzzy rules of the NFL to Americans, who love to put their faith in the decisions of nearly-invisible government officials who always know best.
Presidents, and other visible leaders, or political candidates, can be safely mocked, but officials behind-the-scenes simply do what they do with impunity: the referee as God. Most in football today, however, would say it’s Bob Kraft who is the God. Or Tom Brady.
Those who know the game of football know it is very much like a long volley in tennis; games go back and forth, with each team moving the ball down the field, and scoring, or giving up the ball on a punt. A team will only get a handful of possessions in each half, (sometimes a team’s offense will only touch the ball once in a quarter) and one error (an interception returned for a touchdown, for instance) is often enough to decide a game. One fumble , one interception, or one crucial ref call (or non-call) is all it takes. The TV-watcher, however, wants to believe the winner was better and the loser is a…loser. The pride of the fan demands it.
Pro-wrestling (WWE) is rigged, scripted, immensely popular, and relies on the perception of good guys, bad guys and ‘bad’ good guys: Tom Bradys, Michael Vicks and Ben Roethlisbergers. Here’s the question no ESPN analysist will ask, for fear of losing their job, and no proud NFL fan will ask, for fear of losing their soul: How close is pro football to pro wrestling?
The NFL is successful.
The NFL has a face. Poetry does not.
The poet today is as unknown and faceless—as an NFL referee.
Congratulations, Bob Kraft!
Got any ideas for us poets?