A moody child and wildly wise/
Pursued the game with joyful eyes
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Poet"
As we gather 'round our national campfire for the Super Bowl, of course it seems like poetry -- for one thing, the Ravens are named for Baltimore's tragic own poet-in-residence, Edgar Allen Poe, and his poem "The Raven," and the coaches quote Shakespeare. I'm a 49ers fan but how can I not root for the Ravens? (There is a "murder of crows," "a storytelling of ravens" and "an unkindness of ravens" -- look out, 49ers!).
I am thinking of an all-star poetry team, beginning with Emily Dickinson as wide receiver: "The spreading wide my narrow hands to gather paradise."
She's speedy, she's deft, she's elusive: "The spider holds a silver ball in unperceived hands." (Heavyweights "fumble at my spirit ... As players at the keys/ Before they drop full music on"). She knows victory. She knows defeat. There's the line. And then there's the line. Poets put it on the line. So let's scout out a team. Here's what I'm thinking so far for our Super Bowl.
The Coach: Ralph Waldo Emerson calls for "The Poet." He lays out what needs to be done. He's the old school Vince Lombardi. "Those who are esteemed umpires of taste ... Their knowledge of the fine arts is some study of rules and particulars... exercised for amusement or for show ... We were put into our bodies, as fire is put into a pan, to be carried about."And he's going to lay out for us his vision of what needs to be done.
"The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty. He is a sovereign, and stands on the centre..."
QB: What about Alfred, Lord Tennyson? In "Ulysses," a leader who rallies his crew when everyone has given up on him as a has-been. He's "become a name," a celebrity, who has "drunk delight of battle with my peers," and he wants to be back in the action. He exhorts his whole team to get moving, and not only that, but to pick up the pace. He's the Chip Kelly recruit, up tempo:
"How dull it is to pause, to make an end/To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!" Yes, there is the inevitable pile up -- "Life piled on life were all too little." But "I cannot rest from travel."
He loves to "roam" with a "hungry heart," and he addresses his team:
"My mariners, Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me -- something ere the end/Some work of noble note, may yet be done/Not unbecoming men that strove with gods."
And he addresses them, "Come, my friends. 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world/Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows." He will give a strong locker room speech before going out on the field:
"One equal temper of heroic hearts/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
Go team! Jack Collum could be our color, for his poem "Ecology," and so many of our poets today are wonderful readers of one another's work, in our time and times past ... I need to think of our wealth of commentators who bring poetry alive to us, "despised" and "difficult" as poetry seems (William Carlos Williams). Our nation loves poetry: it's our bedrock of how we think as citizens and alone, in love and lonely, how we celebrate, how we mourn, how we heal, how we hope.
If we can see poetry illuminated by football, an activity that absorbs our rapt attention, half mystery, half spectacle -- what's going on? What's happening? There's an order there, but it's complicated and dynamic and we have to slow it down, we need the color, the commentary, the criticism play by play -- we can understand our human predicament and fate and possibility within the mind's ordered sense of time. We gather to watch struggle, achievement, and each of us is carrying that ball when the runner breaks free, when the poet's language liberates our thought ... What exactly is the ball, Archibald Macleish? And how does one succeed? Or is the game the poem itself, the poet both offense and defense, trying to create meaning against the forces of conventional thought and all the pressures trying to stop one's flow? Is carrying the ball the metaphor, the velocity of meaning, the urgency and power of message, imaginative force against darkness of Cummings' "the no of all nothing"? Is what we battle are the voices saying who do you think you are, who are you to make something that was not there before, is not needed, is not called for? But wait, here is our coach Emerson, calling for you to do this work: making something that was not there before, that changes or more accurately, validates our world?
And what do we eat, when we write or read a poem? For movies, we know: it's popcorn and in my case, Junior Mints, for tailgate parties, is it barbeque? Well, we're going to have recipes for a poetry tailgate, poets on food to nourish our spirits... haggis if you like, or Pablo Nerudian fried potatoes, or Dickinson gingerbread, or Eliot toast and tea, or Ferglingetti penny candy, or recipe for happiness, or Baudelaurian wine, or Williams' plums or Elizabeth Alexander butter...
We have a "roster of" poets for Pre-Game and post-game, and of course a referee (Dante, no?)
So far I have gotten advice from my scouts across the U.S.: Aristophanes for "the trick play," Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux for "rough and tumble," Dr. Seuss who can "pinch hit when there's a bit of a snit," Dorothy Parker on defense, T.S. Eliot as offensive coordinator, and Bukowski as inebriation fan!
More anon... we'll talk about this on The Poetry Slow Down Sunday, pre-gaming, KRXA 540AM, PST Noon-1 p.m. (Podcast: BarbaraMossberg.com). I'm looking forward to more suggestions for our roster!