SUPER BOWL SUNDAY SUNSET

I studied poems all day
On Super Bowl Sunday.
My revenge on American crass,
My hatred of the Pittsburgh Steelers,
Is found in a poem.

And now it’s getting dark.
I almost made it through another season
Without getting my head taken off
By a poem.  I could hit
You at a hundred miles an hour
And it wouldn’t harm you,
Read as you are in things
That make no difference (oh but they do).

But life keeps getting lived
Outside the poem.
The sun’s going down—depressing!
The murmuring TV sets are on.
Remember when games were played during the day?
Perhaps I’ll watch the second half
Before I go to bed
Just to re-connect with humanity
And to see who wins.

My those poems seem so
Indifferent in my mind now.
Perhaps you might talk to me
About whatever happens to come to mind?

IS BOB KRAFT THE JORIE GRAHAM OF THE NFL?

 

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-thescenes 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.

The remedy? 

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?

CAN YOU SAY, “PLATO’S CAVE?”

Spectator sports: sentimental, beastly, and ubiquitous.  Society uses it for crowd control.

I don’t want to stay up until midnight watching a baseball game when I have to work the next day.  Spectator sports, with its reproduced fantasy leagues, are overwhelming, and splintering, our society, producing a cultural wasteland of gamblers and superficial, passive consumers.

Last night, as I was walking past restaurant/bars with TVs, most had some meaningless football game on—even as the Giants were playing to win the pennant.

When I was kid in NYC, the world series was on during the day, and everyone followed this one event; the LA Dodgers might have been playing; it didn’t matter if the teams were not from New York; the world series was on, and every store-front TV broadcast the games; you could hear the world series on every AM radio as you walked down Broadway, or through Central park.

I remember getting a new baseball glove for my birthday, one for a lefty, and it was signed by Tom Seaver, who was a righty.  OK, that was cool.  I wasn’t a Mets fan, either, but that was alright.  It was my glove, and, after all, I was a Tom.  I never thought the glove would get worn in, but eventually it was perfect.  The gift of a glove was accidental and tactile; my father probably took the last lefty glove available at the store: Tom Seaver, well, OK, I’ll take it.  But it served, even though it wasn’t the ideal choice.

There weren’t fantasy baseball teams, but there was Strat-O-Matic baseball, played with dice; again, more tactile.  My group of friends in upper Manhattan, (we played a lot of sandlot sports in Riverside park) all played Strat-O-Matic baseball.

There was more sandlot, and less official leagues, when I was growing up.   As amateurs, we were our own refs; designed our own plays, rules, nicknames, teams, and boundaries.  Today, kids spend their lives in grown-up run, official leagues starting at a very young age.  Is this why, despite all our modern technological innovations, we think outside the box even less, now?  Is this one of the reasons why we have less imagination, and top-down, corporate, thinking is the guiding philosophy more than ever?

Sports was just as ubiquitous in the U.S. in 1965 as it is today; boys were not poets; they were sports fans; this was as true then, as it is today.   But baseball was the game, and baseball had an equal amount of blacks, whites, and Latins; today there are more choices, but also more divisions; there are more specialilzed, isolated differences that separate and alienate—and are often sources of subtle resentment.

There’s more technology and communication today, but more segregation and separation.  How did that happen?  Hockey is still white.  Baseball is losing blacks.  Basketball and football—especially defenses—are almost entirely black.   People can blend into their specialized tribe, and the choice to do so is a ‘good.’  This is good, right?

Can we blame technology and the 100 plus cable channels?  Sometimes I think we’re too quick to blame technology.

We’ve always had a choice to pay attention to X, rather than Y, no matter how many cable channels there are.

The question is: why did those bars put on that meaningless football game, instead of the game that might decide the pennant?  Who made that choice, and why?

I think it has something to do with the fact that we don’t feel like a whole society anymore, but I don’t know if you can blame that on 100 cable channels; whatever the reason, there’s an increasing sense that we are separate, competing sectors who resent each other along political, social, cultural, and class lines.

Take a classic division: white collar and blue collar.   One could certainly argue that back in 1965, there was one channel showing sports, the world series, and white collar and blue collar together watched the world series.

Now, with more choices, the blue collars, let’s say, make the decision to watch football, because it’s a rougher and tougher game, while the white collars, who are more cerebral, choose to watch baseball.  Maybe these decisions are not made consciously, but they are made, and the choices available due to technological advances end up driving people apart, emphasizing, and even increasing all sorts of differences.

My Dad was a New York Giants fan, so I became a Giants fan, too, even though they played in San Francisco—and I lived in New York.  So began my disdain for home town rooters; my worldly, open-minded sophistication was born in a banal choice: which team do I support?  San Francisco had stars like Marichal, McCovey, and Mays, but never won a championship, and so a disappointment deepened whatever was already there.  Did all this make me a writer?

Even though society today is more fluid, more mobile, and there are more choices and more channels of communication today, fans seem to be  fixated on a home team, or on one team over others, more than ever.  Why is this?  Why, with all these cable channels, are people more rigid, more tribal, and more separated?

But before we die in a nostalgic, sentimental swoon, we should bring things back to reality.  What is the nature of professional sports, really?

Sports rewards arrogance and teeth-baring and cheating.  Sports is war.  It belongs to the god Mars.  People like George Will, the ‘literary’ sports writers for certain city papers, the nice old men who write those smarmy books on the game, the network broadcasters who try to come across as intelligent, perceptive, good-humored, reasonable gentlemen, falsely glaze over, for the more civilized members of their audience, what the game really is: the unsportsmanlike raiding of the best players on poor teams by rich teams (in the name of ‘player freedom’), the headhunting by pitchers who increase their value by letting the batter know: I will kill you, not to mention all the vicious, evil stuff that goes on behind the scenes, the illegal drugs, the fixing and throwing of games, the gambling, and organized crime pulling strings—and that’s just baseball.

The NFL is obviously a thousand times worse.  Every pro player, in every contact sport, numbs themselves to the horror, and they really don’t care who wins; they’re happy to survive (even as they please the coach and the crowd by willing to maim and be maimed on every play) and bring home that large paycheck.  There are no heroes.  A player sticks out his bat…oh, look what I did, I hit a homerun!  But at the end of the day, all that matters is the big bucks the players make.  Meanwhile, fans with miserable lives believe that it matters.  Can you say, “Plato’s Cave?”

In the playoffs this weekend, if the Yanks or Phils sneak in, what a tragedy. Big bank accounts with hired guns back in the world series.  No offense to Philly and Yankee fans—they are from those cities, so obviously they can’t help it.

But then baseball gets what it deserves.

Ever since the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, in the 1970s, purchased world-champion superstars from the Athletics, turning his team into world champions because of those purchases, the game was essentially ruined.   The Curt Flood clause, which introduced the nutty idea that players are ‘free’ to play where they want to play, handed the game over to the money men.

Baseball touts the exceptions, in which teams with low budgets, the Marlins, the Twins, win it all, but that doesn’t change the overall reality of the harsh inequity.   A team which has been awful for years, like the Royals or Pirates, cannot afford to keep a good player, a Johnny Damon, or a Jason Bay; they go elsewhere for more money.

This has to be one of the reasons baseball is less popular.

The fixing of games in the NFL is a real problem.  Poets instinctively know that if a referee makes one bad call in a crucial situation, this will affect the game’s result.  The play in football is confusing, rules governing holding and pass interference are very gray, and thus, in broad daylight, through calls and non-calls, results of games can easily be steered in a certain direction, for a definite result.

The NFL has a large audience, just as Pro (fake) Wrestling does, and the former has increasingly come to resemble the latter, even though most NFL fans don’t realize how fake and fixed their game is; fans see inexplicably bad calls by refs, and shake them off; they want their game to be ‘real,’ so they say to themselves, ‘refs are human; they make mistakes.’  Oh, yes, refs are ‘human’ alright.  Trillion dollar sports planners understand that  to sell their product they need good guys and bad guys,  ‘hero quarterback’ story-lines and  dynasties, and if some very visible stars feature disgusting or even criminal behavior in their personal lives, if some ‘genius’ coaches cheat to win, well, in the corporate business of ‘bread and circuses,’ that’s all the better.  The sports market will do anything to ‘win.’

It’s Mars, baby, it’s Mars.

A sport played by an individual, such as tennis, is a safer bet to be fair.

Perhaps they should invent a new game of baseball and football which can be played in front of spectators with a team of one.

   

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