Sunday, October 16, 2005


Sometimes, let's face it--a boy just can't help it. And when I saw this little ditty by Nobel prize winner Harold Pinter posted on Mark's site, prefaced with the note that "I don't care much for his poetry, but I like this," I just couldn't resist:

American Football

(A Reflection upon the Gulf War)

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.

We blew the shit right back up their own ass
And out their fucking ears.

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.
They suffocated in their own shit!

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew them into fucking shit.
They are eating it.

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust.

We did it.

Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.

--Says I in the comment box: "That one was a big hit in Kuwait, too."

Now, I knew I was being wicked. But brace yourself, Boutros! Today comes Mark's response, and it's a doozy:
No, of course Pinter's "American Football" was probably not a big "hit" in Kuwait, nor in Washington, Tel Aviv, or the Royal Court of Saud. Spenser, I suppose, whom Simon Shepherd calls "a penpusher in the service of imperialism," could have written a victory ode that would have gone down better at the courts and Hilton lobbies of the "liberators" and liberated. And I imagine you & I agree that the best political poems – not necessarily the most stirring – are deeply shot thru with ambiguities and misgivings: my own favorite is Marvell's "Horatian Ode" to Oliver Cromwell. Which was not a big hit for the Drogheda survivors, either. But one does not have to concur with Pinter's politics – his opposition to NATO's Kossovo intervention is a notorious example – even with his stance on the (first) Gulf War, to see that what he assaults so energetically in "American Football" – American triumphalism, American arrogance, the American cult of physicality and violence, the combination of sexuality and physical aggression that too often defines American masculinity, etc. – reichly deserves energetic assault.
Well, Mark, what can I say? I think Pinter's poem is an easy, cheap"assault" on a series of cliches about American vulgarity and violence that were already growing curdled the last time Cream took a farewell tour. His deployment of cuss words is prissy, not energetic, and the same goes for his sniggering at American religiosity, which I guess is just as vulgar, just as low-brow as our potty-mouthed cult of manliness. Bill Maher does both better, and with less self-righteousness.

Unless I'm missing something--and if I am, dear Readers, let me know--this poem doesn't offer any actual political insight, which is just fine by me, but it scants me on memorable language and freshness of imagination, too, and that's where I draw the line. Prove me wrong, or admit that it's basically an excuse for folks who are too sophisticated to enjoy James Wright's "Autumn Begins in Martin's Ferry, Ohio" to get their own digs in at football, American-style, and at America, football-style. You remember the Wright:

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.

Subtle, isn't it? And so very, very insightful. (*SIGH*)

Not much more than that to say, unless you want me to talk, like, actual politics--and I'll spare us both that for now.

(Oh, by the way--what's with the Freudian typo in that last sentence? They "reichly" deserve "energetic assault"? Sounds like someone has his orgones in a bunch!)

1 comment:

Mark Scroggins said...

Eric ol' bean--

You don't have to pretend to be Ann Coulter just because you don't like a poem -- indeed, it's likely to provoke me to pretend to be Jane Fonda. And neither of us look very good in those skirts.

The poem offers me a compact array of pleasures, most of them rather minor: I like the awkwardness (not necessarily "prissiness") of the obscenities, the degree to which they are precisely *not* natural-sounding. (Indeed, one of the oddities of the poem is that it works most naturally if imagined in the voice of someone who doesn't speak English as a first language --which might by HP's impression of Americans, who knows?) I like the very slight off-centeredness of some of the phrases. I like the flatness of "It works" and "We did it." I like the minor (you would say "cheap" & would probably be right) payoff of the last line.

Pinter is not a very good poet. Period. This particular poem has been all over the internet as part of the inevitable pillorying of the Nobel committee as anti-American Euro-liberals. I kinda enjoyed it. Oh yeah, and football ("American" football) has always made me physically sick -- no cliché.

Love and kisses from the politburo,