It started early this morning: the slow motion replays set to rock music; the deep, dramatic voiceovers. And it will build to a fever pitch tonight with a divalicious rendition of the national anthem, roaring fighter jets, and (in case you forgot) a football game. Yes, the occasional snap will interrupt the beer commercials hammering on social stereotypes and the militaristic, spandex-clad muscle men screaming "We must protect this house!" Then there will be a massive, happy halftime production the Simpsons once spoofed as "Hooray for Everything." And, oh God, there will be interviews.
If you believe that poetry should be clear, concise language free of worn-out associations (i.e. cliches), there may be no greater enemy to poetry than the modern-day athlete, mid-interview, mumbling about "bringing his A game" and "taking things to the next level." Not that it's all the athletes' fault. I can't imagine having a half-dozen microphones shoved in my face after a day at work with reporters asking the same questions over and over, prodding me to spill something they could blow up into a story. Sticking to cliches just makes sense, as Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham":
Davis: It's time to work on your interviews.
LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Davis: You're gonna have to learn your cliches. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring.
Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.
No, Crash and Nuke aren't Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. And the Super Bowl sure doesn't seem like an atmosphere for poetry.
But while you'll have to look hard to find poetry on your TV tonight, I'd encourage you to look. I say that as a football fan and a poet and, more importantly, as someone who has sat through two Super Bowl parties with poets. These are people I like immensely, but the nights played out how I imagine going to the ballet with a bunch of frat brothers would play out. You know, they'd make fun of the set and the outfits. They'd talk through the whole performance and be quick to announce their boredom. And, of course, they wouldn't admit to any of the beauty.
But there are, clearly, beautiful aspects of the game. If you don't think so, you've never seen Larry Fitzgerald gracefully bend his massive frame to pluck a ball out the air or really watched the arc and spin of a pass soaring fifty yards down the field against the lights. These moments exist within--and are heightened by--the drama of the game. And they are also heightened by their contrast to the game's violence. Anyone who's played football at any level knows the violence is intense and, sometimes, all-consuming. And it's the tension of the beauty and violence together that I find poetic--rich with symbolism. James Wright nailed this in his poem "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio:"
In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.
So tonight, if you aren't a fan and you still don't see art in the game (and if you can't - God forbid - just have fun) then at least, for the sake of us who do, please don't be the frat guy snickering through the ballet.