Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Curling: The Official Winter Olympic Sport of Poets

If you're a fan at my Facebook page, you probably thought I was nuts this morning when you saw:

David Vincenti Analogy for the day: Curling is to The Olympics as Poetry is to Barnes and Noble. Discuss.

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer of Your Daily Poem was first to fire a salvo back, repeated here in its entirety: "I think not! Poetry is vibrant, exciting, funny, heartbreaking, provocative, whimsical, keep inserting other descriptive terms. Curling is BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORING.."

Well, friend Jayne, I couldn't have asked you to set me up any better. (I'd insert the obvious volleyball reference here, but that would be mixing metaphports).

My proposal is that poets adopt curling as our official winter Olympic sport, and see in that fine old game a series of similarities to our selected art that might just teach us a thing or three.

First: Curling has historical roots that most people who dismiss the sport don't know. While these don't necessarily make the modern version of the game easier to understand, they do provide some context, not to mention some interesting stories that might help you connect to the game as you play it or watch it. Poetry, similarly has history that most people who dismiss it put out of their heads the day after they learned them in high school. While this history doesn't necessarily make contemporary, modern or post-avant poetry easier to understand, it certainly contains interesting characters and many ways connect to poetry as you read it, write it or listen to it.

Second: Curling, while it looks easy to do (at least to those who don't participate in game) and is tempting to treat lightly because of that, does have some subtlety to it, some rules which - if you exploit them well - make the difference between being a champion and missing the medal round. Face it: Even if you don't see it, there's got to be some skill involved, or teams which are consistently good wouldn't beat up so regularly on the teams that are consistently bad. In the same way, poetry seems easy to do (at least to those who don't participate in the art). And while many people could talk about rhyme and tap some iambs out on the table, few outside "the game" could speak usefully about assonance, enjambment, allusion.... which will lead us, inevitably, to lash out at those who dismiss us with a similar challenge: they might not see it, but there is clearly a practitioner's skill involved, else those who publish and present and are read more widely wouldn't consistently outpublish (etc.) the others.

Third (Sorry, Jayne, this one's right back at you!): Curling is Boring. Ask anyone in your office about poetry. I disagree on both fronts, but don't for a minute tell me that a significant fraction of your coworkers would say poetry was exciting.

Now how about this one: Curling unfolds slowly, tactically but its the rapid twists at the end that provide the hook, the reason to keep watching. Poetry, similarly, unfolds according to its own tactics, but frequently brings a surprise at the end that makes the unfolding all the more interesting in review.

Or this: the basics of curling, the steps in execution, are learned fairly easily. Their mastery, which is much more mental than physical, comes only with practice and wisdom, explaining why curlers are typically older when they reach their peak than are other athletes. Isn't that really true of poets as well? I mean, in what other arenas does "Younger" mean "Under 35?"

In case you hadn't guessed, I've been watching a bit of curling and yes, as I get to understand it a bit better, I'm really finding it interesting. Not for everyone maybe; I think my wife is convinced I've gone a bit loopy to be so fascinated by it. As to whether that is another way curling is like poetry, I'll have to withhold comment.

OK, I get it. I know that, truth be told, most people don't care about curling and won't care about anything I've said here. But it is also truth that most people don't care about poetry either, and probably would dismiss it with all the same prejudices they do curling. We take it personally when they dismiss our art and take steps to educate them otherwise, no? Let's show a little empathy and extend the same courtesy to our new official sport.

Rock on, stone throwers.

1 comment:

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer said...

Don't be smug but, yeah, okay, you made your points. Might be fun to use Olympic winter sports as a comparison for poetry in general: Bukowski is the luge, Billy Collins is the half-pipe, Emily Dickinson is figure skating (she wouldn't do the quad, either), etc. And while my first impulse is to claim downhill (I like for my poems to end with a big SWOOSH), maybe curling has a certain appeal after all...calmly guiding your reader through line after line...nudging them this way and that to keep them on track...till you move in for the kill at the last second and steer them EXACTLY where you want them to go. Of course, I never claimed curling was devoid of skill; just excitement. But I suppose your argument can be made, once again, that only those who take the time to study and savor curling/poetry reap the pleasure of the final outcome. So, touche, your analogy holds. Maybe all curling/poetry needs is better PR!