A news item appearing in the Jan. 29 issue of “BBC’s Internet News” reminds me of my years as a bouncer in a rock ‘n roll bar.
Let me set the stage.
The question to be answered when the Broncos and Seahawks take the field on Sunday will be a simple one. When time expires, which team will have the most points on the scoreboard? There may be a host of secondary questions; offensive/defensive statistics, individual performances, the importance of officiating in the outcome of the game, the role of intangibles, etc. But as for who won this year’s Super Bowl, we’ll know when the game is over.
Likewise, in certain winter Olympic events, the question at issue will be settled at the finish line. If the object of the exercise is to determine which athlete completes the course in the fastest time, the digital equivalent of the venerated stopwatch will tell us who wins. End of story.
This brings me to the subject of barroom brawls. (I’ll get to the BBC item in a second). I’ve seen fights bust out over such things as who was the greatest rock ‘n roll band, who was the most beautiful Miss America, who was the greatest of the singing cowboys and are professional bowlers really athletes? No matter how the fight turned out, none of the above questions produced a definitive answer. The common denominator in all these macho discussions was the belief — magnified by the effects of alcohol — that a fist fight could settle the issue. Don’t get me wrong here, there are times when a good head bustin’ is just what the doctor ordered. But, that’s for another column.
So here’s where the BBC comes in. According to the story, last week in Russia a couple of friends were sharing a few drinks and discussing the relative merits of prose versus poetry. Though this is not a topic I overheard often in the rock ‘n roll bar business, it has been the subject of intellectual dispute for centuries.
No need to offer an exhaustive summary of the arguments here, it’s enough to present some snapshots.
Hemingway says, “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the age of Baroque is over.” W. Somerset Maugham insists, “The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes.” H.L. Mencken says, “Poetry has done enough when it charms, but prose must also convince.”
Edward Young counters with, “There is something about poetry beyond the prose logic; there is mystery in it, not to be explained but admired.” As you see, plenty of horsepower on all sides of the argument.
No doubt, our Russian friends covered some of the same ground. Evidently, the discussion turned really hot. One of the debaters, a 53-year-old former teacher, insisted on poetry’s superiority. His 67-year-old opponent held out for the honor of prose.
The article doesn’t say whether both men were armed but poetry’s adherent, for sure, had a knife. A fight broke out and prose’s defender was stabbed in the melee. Poetry’s proponent fled the scene. He was ultimately apprehended and charged with homicide. He confessed. The BBC article is silent as to how he plans to argue in mitigation of the possible 15-year prison sentence.
Obviously, this tragedy is subject to a number of possible interpretations. Statistically, we can say that 100 percent of the time when a knife fight breaks out between debaters of the relative merits of prose and poetry, the poets win. Does this settle the issue? Does it even suggest that poetry’s adherence are better knife fighters? Would the outcome had been different if one of the contestants had not been Russian? Can we draw any meaningful conclusions from this dispute at all?
We might chalk this up to a bizarre oddity unique in the world of news. But the BBC article reports in another Russian city back in September a fight broke out between two men debating the merits of the philosophical ideas of philosopher Emmanuel Kant. There was no fatality, but one of the disputants was injured when he was shot several times with rubber bullets.
So here’s what I’m thinking. There’s no way a knife fight can settle the issue of whether poetry or prose is superior. Rubber bullets won’t clarify Kant. But contestants could take a hint from the Super Bowl and Olympic speed skating. Instead of knife fights and rubber bullets, they could try a round of paintball. They won’t decide whether prose or poetry is superior. But they will have a winner and there shouldn’t be fatalities. May the best paintballer win.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.