DANTE AND POPE BATTLE FOR CLASSICAL BRACKET FINAL

All poets are beautiful.  Is Alexander Pope not beautiful?

POPE:

It would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly passed on poems. A critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error?

This seems strange: Pope, author of “The Confederacy of Dunces,” himself a poet best known for using his poetry to criticize and excoriate lesser poets, who took sweet delight in crushing denser wits with his superior wit, in this piece of prose, defends poets against harsh criticism. What? Was Pope really soft? In any case, no Critics from the 18th century are even known today, even as one as mighty as Pope seems to fear them. The critics are all forgotten.

But Pope was prophetic: civilization means that poetry is not only read, it is discussed and criticized: but finally the poets prove too thin-skinned, and resolve “not to own themselves in any error,” which is precisely what happened with modern poetry: its desultory prose style simply cannot be measured as faulty; the loose address of an Ashbery is simply beyond criticism. So is every one happy? Would Pope, who rhymes, be?

Next, Pope puts his finger on another modern ailment: poetry is essentially trivial:

I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-placed; poetry and criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.

Finally, Pope makes further modern remarks regarding the poet in society—the genius does not appear out of the blue; they must grow up to an audience; but how? Most likely even the genius—in the early stages of their career, especially—will be shot down, envied, and hated. Is Pope merely feeling sorry for himself? Critical reception is made of flawed and envious humans, and the best thing the genius can hope for is “self-amusement.” So we are back to “idle men in closets.” We are surprised to find Pope, in his prose, to be self-pitying, sensitive, and quaintly tragic. Pope was the first Romantic. He was Byron’s favorite poet, after all.

What we call a genius, is hard to be distinguished by a man himself—if his genius be ever so great, he cannot discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has is appealing to the judgments of others. The reputation of a writer generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.  A good poet no sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with fear of being ridiculous. If praise be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine genius as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it: and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so good, as ill-will does him harm. The largest part of mankind, of ordinary or indifferent capacities, will hate, or suspect him. Whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are some advantages accruing from a genius to poetry: the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone, the privilege of being admitted into the best company…

DANTE:

The author of the Comedia, here in a prose section of his earlier, Beatrice-besotted Vita Nuova, speaks of several apparently unrelated things at once: the poet describing love as if it were a person, the use of high and low speech as it relates to rhyme and love, and how these uses should be understood in a prose manner.

Dante quotes examples in classical poetry (mostly figures of speech) to defend his own practice in his “little book” (the Vita Nuova) of personifying love.

The dramatizing license is all well and good, but Dante also makes the fascinating point that poets began to write in the common tongue (as opposed to literary Latin) in wooing (less educated) females, and that rhyme is best used for love. How does one get one’s head around this radical, grounded, democratic, proto-Romantic notion?

For Dante, poetry and love overlap in a corporeal manner in three ways: personification, rhyme, and wooing, the first belonging to rhetoric, the second, to music, and the third, practical romance. The whole thing is delightfully religious in a mysterious, trinitarian sort of way: Personified love, Christ, the son; Rhyme, the Holy Spirit; and Wooing, the Creative Love of God. Or, on a more pagan religious level, personified love can be any messenger; rhyme, the trappings of religion’s austere/populist articulation; and wooing, the conversion of the poor.

It might be that a person might object, one worthy of raising an objection, and their objection might be this, that I speak of Love as though it were a thing in itself, and not only an intelligent subject, but a bodily substance: which, demonstrably, is false: since Love is not in itself a substance, but an accident of substance.

And that I speak of him as if he were corporeal, moreover as though he were a man, is apparent from these three things I say of him. I say that I saw him approaching: and since to approach implies local movement, and local movement per se, following the Philosopher, exists only in a body, it is apparent that I make Love corporeal.

I also say of him that he smiles, and that he speaks: things which properly belong to man, and especially laughter: and therefore it is apparent that I make him human. To make this clear, in a way that is good for the present matter, it should first be understood that in ancient times there was no poetry of Love in the common tongue, but there was Love poetry by certain poets in the Latin tongue: amongst us, I say, and perhaps it happened amongst other peoples, and still happens, as in Greece, only literary, not vernacular poets treated of these things.

Not many years have passed since the first of these vernacular poets appeared: since to speak in rhyme in the common tongue is much the same as to speak in Latin verse, paying due regard to metre. And a sign that it is only a short time is that, if we choose to search in the language of oc [vulgar Latin S. France] and that of si, [vulgar Latin Italy] we will not find anything earlier than a hundred and fifty years ago.

And the reason why several crude rhymesters were famous for knowing how to write is that they were almost the first to write in the language of si. And the first who began to write as a poet of the common tongue was moved to do so because he wished to make his words understandable by a lady to whom verse in Latin was hard to understand. And this argues against those who rhyme on other matters than love, because it is a fact that this mode of speaking was first invented in order to speak of love.

From this it follows that since greater license is given to poets than prose writers, and since those who speak in rhyme are no other than the vernacular poets, it is apt and reasonable that greater license should be granted to them to speak than to other speakers in the common tongue: so that if any figure of speech or rhetorical flourish is conceded to the poets, it is conceded to the rhymesters. So if we see that the poets have spoken of inanimate things as if they had sense and reason, and made them talk to each other, and not just with real but with imaginary things, having things which do not exist speak, and many accidental things speak, as if they were substantial and human, it is fitting for writers of rhymes to do the same, but not without reason, and with a reason that can later be shown in prose.

That the poets have spoken like this is can be evidenced by Virgil, who says that Juno, who was an enemy of the Trojans, spoke to Aeolus, god of the winds, in the first book of the Aeneid: ‘Aeole, namque tibi: Aeolus, it was you’, and that the god replied to her with: Tuus, o regina, quid optes, explorare labor: mihi jussa capessere fas est: It is for you, o queen, to decide what our labours are to achieve: it is my duty to carry out your orders’. In the same poet he makes an inanimate thing (Apollo’s oracle) talk with animate things, in the third book of the Aeneid, with: ‘Dardanidae duri: You rough Trojans’.

In Lucan an animate thing talks with an inanimate thing, with: ‘Multum. Roma, tamen debes civilibus armis: Rome, you have greatly benefited from the civil wars.’

In Horace a man speaks to his own learning as if to another person: and not only are they Horace’s words, but he gives them as if quoting the style of goodly Homer, in his Poetics saying: ‘Dic mihi, Musa, virum: Tell me, Muse, about the man.’

In Ovid, Love speaks as if it were a person, at the start of his book titled De Remediis Amoris: Of the Remedies for Love, where he says: ‘Bella mihi, video, bella parantur, ait: Some fine things I see, some fine things are being prepared, he said.’

These examples should serve to as explanation to anyone who has objections concerning any part of my little book. And in case any ignorant person should assume too much, I will add that the poets did not write in this mode without good reason, nor should those who compose in rhyme, if they cannot justify what they are saying, since it would be shameful if someone composing in rhyme put in a figure of speech or a rhetorical flourish, and then, being asked, could not rid his words of such ornamentation so as to show the true meaning. My best friend and I know many who compose rhymes in this foolish manner.

 

Pope, the great poet, already, in the 18th century, as a philosopher, has that Modernist smell of trivializing apology about him. Not so Dante, who is an ardent, mysterious flame burning on the candle of the Muse.

WINNER: DANTE

Dante will face Plato in the Classical Final for a spot in the Final Four!

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TONY HOAGLAND, NEO-ROMANTIC, BATTLES OVID, PRE-ROMANTIC!

 
Scene from Ovid’s Amores
 
Poet Tony Hoagland, fresh off a 2013 AWP panel in which he advocated soul, wisdom, and humanity, saying poetry today had lost its way in the halls of academia to fakery and cleverness, seemed an ideal contemporary choice to represent neo-Romanticism in this year’s Scarriet March Madness Poetry Tournament.
 
The following spazzes out in high Romantic splendor—well, Keats doing Catullus doing O’Hara, perhaps:
 
A COLOR OF THE SKY—TONY HOAGLAND
 
Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
                     when you pass through clumps of wood   
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,   
but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.
  
I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?   
And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing   
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.
  
Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,   
the very tint of inexperience.
  
Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,   
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written   
MEMORY LOVES TIME
in big black spraypaint letters,
  
which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.
Last night I dreamed of X again.
She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.   
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,   
I never got her out,
but now I’m glad.
  
What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.   
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.   
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.
  
Outside the youth center, between the liquor store   
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
  
overflowing with blossomfoam,   
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,
 
dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
  
so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.   
It’s been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.
 
Romantic spume.  Keats’ “fine excess” dripping everywhere.  Sexy but sad.  Ah, Romanticism.
 
It’s clever the way Hoagland mentions “police station,” youth center,” “liquor store,” which imply youthful, reckless behavior; more signs that “sexual arousal” and the “obscene” are quietly navigating through his poem in a melancholy, reflective fashion: romance recollected in tranquility.  Nature’s “wastefulness” is obscene, perhaps more so than sexual arousal is obscene.  But the question is, has  Hoagland written a poem, or just an intellectual exercise?  He seems to be walking a line between cleverness and soul; obviously he’s shooting for the latter.  Does he reach it?
 
And Hoagland, the modern, has a hard task here in the Scarriet Tourney; he’s got to get by Ovid.
 
In Sports, unlike Poetry—as seen by the New Critics—talk outside the game (text) is just as important (if not more) than what happens in the game.
 
After all, what’s more interesting, the bouncing of a ball, or the lives, the heartbreaks, and the personalities attached to that ball?
 
Hoagland teaches. 
 
Ovid, when he was Hoagland’s age, was exiled forever by the emperor for writing sexually immoral poetry which helped destroy the Roman Republic.
 
Professor Gilbert Highet, in his book, Poets In A Landscape, puts it colorfully.  Ovid encouraged
 
absolute freedom from the ties of family, personal loyalty [and] public morality. Vergil’s Aeneid is a heroic poem about a single man who surmounts enormous difficulties and temptations…Ovid’s Transformations is a huge poem, partly didactic…in which men and gods live by their passions alone….Ovid even takes up several of the stories told in the Aeneid, and retells them—always in such a way as to make them more exciting and less meaningful, shallower and more vivid, occasionally almost comic. It is as though Byron had composed, in the style of Don Juan, a poem which was designed to outdo and occasionally to mock Milton’s Paradise Lost.
 
Here’s where the whole Romanticism thing gets tricky.   No two poets could be more different than Byron and Wordsworth, who are both considered “Romantics.” 
 
We ought to distinguish between a Victorian Romanticism: Wordsworth and a Roman Romanticism: Byron.
 
Or, proper v. juicy?
 
Is that too simplistic?
 
What to make of Hoagland’s,
 

I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night
 
Is that Victorian?  Or Roman?
 
Does this social record depend on the age the poet is living in?   Does the poet have any say in this at all?
 
Or what to make of Hoagland’s pathetic fallacy of
 
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind
 
Is Hoagland being merely clever, or does this powerfully invoke the ‘no-mind’ of nature?
 
Of course, no one brings juicy Romanticism like Ovid.
 
From Ovid’s Amores (trans. Derek Mahon):
 
The day being humid and my head
heavy, I stretched out on a bed.
The open window to the right
reflected woodland-watery light,
a keyed-up silence as of dawn
or dusk, the vibrant and uncertain
hour when a brave girl might undress
and caper naked on the grass.
You entered in a muslin gown,
bare-footed, your fine braids undone,
a fabled goddess with an air
as if in heat yet debonair.
Aroused, I grabbed and roughly tore
until your gown squirmed on the floor.
Oh, you resisted, but like one
who knows resistance is in vain;
and, when you stood revealed, my eyes
feasted on shoulders, breasts and thighs.
I held you hard and down you slid
beside me, as we knew you would.
Oh, come to me again as then you did!
 
 Aesthetically, Ovid’s poem has a cinematic focus, a unity of image and feeling, which the Hoagland cannot replicate, as Hoagland’s poem is more rambling, more meditative, more intellectual—though Hoagland does struggle mightily to make it all into one theme: the whole bursting and excessive, yet fragile and doubtful, aspect of sex, as experienced by an intellectual yet ordinary, American.
 
And the winner is…
 
Hoagland upsets Ovid, 81-80 in OT!!
 
Congratulations to Tony Hoagland!!!

CLASSICAL SELECTIONS UP, WITH WORLD PREMIERE SCARRIET TRANSLATION OF CATULLUS!

Have you heard?  We’re going to be in Scarriet’s March Madness!!

Six very old poems have made the cut for this year’s Madness, featuring Romanticism, old and new.  Read them as you drink old wine.

World literature, prior to the modern, English-speaking era, is not rich in wonderful English lyrics that can measure up to the best of Keats and Shelley, perhaps the chief reason being that poetic translation is a very dubious art, or that the ancient peoples really were children, whose best poems, to a great extent, are equivalent to the blockbuster film genre.

Of course there is infinite charm and interest lurking in thousands of ancient songs and fragments, but we needed actual English poems that could compete.

To find very old poems which are sexually frank is always a bit of a wonder to modern ears, but the greatest poetry features a certain amount of taste among its many merits.  Otherwise any cute, colorful, topical, humorous, randy piece of writing will do—but why should we offend the angels? Why should we leave the path?

DORCHIA (Edward Arlington Robinson, trans)
Poseidippus (c. 310 BC)

So now the very bones of you are gone
Where they were dust and ashes long ago;
And there was the last ribbon you tied on
To bind your hair, and that is dust also;
And somewhere there is dust that was of old
A soft and scented garment that you wore—
The same that once till dawn did closely fold
You in with fair Charaxus, fair no more.

But Sappho, and the white leaves of her song,
Will make your name a word for all to learn,
And all to love thereafter, even while
It’s but a name; and this will be as long
As there are distant ships that will return
Again to your Naucratis and the Nile.

LESBIA, LET’S LIVE ONLY FOR LOVE (Scarriet, trans)
Catullus (87-54 BC)

Lesbia, let’s live only for love
And not give a crap
For jealous, old lips that flap.
The sun, when it goes down
Comes back around,
But, you know, when we go down, that’s it.
Give me one thousand kisses, one hundred
Kisses, one thousand, one hundred,
Let’s not stop, even during our extra hundred,
Thousands and thousands of kisses our debt,
But let’s not tell that to anybody yet.
This business will make us rich: kisses.

O BEST OF ALL NIGHTS, RETURN AND RETURN AGAIN (James Laughlin, trans)
Sextus Propertius ( (50-15 BC)

How she let her long hair down over her shoulders, making a love cave around her face. Return and return again.
How when the lamplight was lowered she pressed against him, twining her fingers in his. Return and return again.
How their legs swam together like dolphins and their toes played like little tunnies. Return and return again.
How she sat beside him cross-legged, telling him stories of her childhood. Return and return again.
How she closed her eyes when his were wide open, how they breathed together, breathing each other. Return and return again.
How they fell into slumber, their bodies curled together like two spoons. Return and return again.
How they went together to Otherwhere, the fairest land they had ever seen. Return and return again.
O best of all nights, return and return again.

AMORES I, V (Derek Mahon, trans)
Ovid (43-17 BC)

The day being humid and my head
heavy, I stretched out on a bed.
The open window to the right
reflected woodland-watery light,
a keyed-up silence as of dawn
or dusk, the vibrant and uncertain
hour when a brave girl might undress
and caper naked on the grass.
You entered in a muslin gown,
bare-footed, your fine braids undone,
a fabled goddess with an air
as if in heat yet debonair.
Aroused, I grabbed and roughly tore
until your gown squirmed on the floor.
Oh, you resisted, but like one
who knows resistance is in vain;
and, when you stood revealed, my eyes
feasted on shoulders, breasts and thighs.
I held you hard and down you slid
beside me, as we knew you would.
Oh, come to me again as then you did!

TANTO GENTILE (trans, Dante Gabriele Rossetti)
Dante (1265-1321)

So gentle and so pure appears
my lady when she greets others,
that every tongue trembles and is mute,
and their eyes do not dare gaze at her.
She goes by, aware of their praise,
benignly dressed in humility:
and seems as if she were a thing come
from Heaven to Earth to show a miracle.
She shows herself so pleasing to those who gaze,
through the eyes she sends a sweetness to the heart,
that no one can understand who does not know it:
and from her lips there comes
a sweet spirit full of love,
that goes saying to the soul: ‘Sigh.’

WHOSO LIST TO HUNT (trans, Thomas Wyatt)
Francesco Petrarch  (1304-1374 BC)

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas, I may no more
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore.
I am of them that farthest cometh behind;
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the Deer: but as she fleeth afore,
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain:
And, graven with diamonds, in letters plain
There is written her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am;
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

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?

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