By Ken Bradbury
Call me crazy, but I think it’s a great idea.
Item 1: Jacksonville has two well-known poets: Dr. Joe Kozma, the current poet laureate of Jacksonville, and Andy Mitchell, owner of Our Town Books. I know that MacMurray professor Robert Seufert has his own fans in the poetry world – but he lives in Winchester, so he doesn’t count.
Item 2: Professional wrestling always draws big crowds.
Jacksonville is forever looking for the next big thing to draw people to town and attention to our fair city. I humbly propose “The Great Verse-Off,” a mouth-to-mouth verbal battle between the town’s two great versifiers. Kozma is a retired MD who was recently named the town’s poet laureate and Mitchell is the up-and-coming new kid on the block who often peppers the internet with his versifying.
Okay, we’ll need a place big enough to hold the huge crowds expected. First Christian Church has a beautiful and bountiful new facility, but sometimes Andy Mitchell’s poetry language gets a bit … uh … colorful, so I’d opt instead for The Jacksonville Bowl. It’s a great place to hold a poetry slam if you don’t like poetry because it’s hard to hear in there anyway.
Professional wrestling is one part wrestling and three parts hype, so the build-up to this “Grand Slam of Poetry” has to be spectacular. Fog machines and lasers are essential in the WWE so I’d advise using the same sort of technology for GVO, the “Great Verse Off.” And any professional grappler knows that he needs a costume that sells his character. I’m not sure how either Kozma or Mitchell would look in yellow tights and spandex, but we can work that out later. Andy does have some really cool sports coats and I’m sure that Joe has a few old lab coats hanging around from his years in medical practice. Add a few rhinestones and you’ve got a costume.
Like professional wrestling, man-to-man poetry needs a referee, so I’d recommend Chris Ashmore, head book man at the Jacksonville Public Library. Not only does Chris know his way around a good iambic pentameter but he’s big enough to be a commanding presence in the poetry ring in case either contestant resorts to biting, gouging or sloppy diction.
I’d like to borrow a bit from professional boxing. Old-time boxing matches used to hire beautiful and scantily clad girls to walk around the ring between rounds, holding up large signs announcing the round number. That might be a bit too much for a town that once gave shelter to such moral absolutists as Jonathan Baldwin Turner and William Jennings Bryan, so perhaps we could compromise by having a couple members of the League of Women Voters in tasteful ball gowns promenading around the ring between bouts.
I think that maybe we could even one-up professional wrestling in one respect. Professional wrestlers do basically the same thing throughout the entire fight, but with the nimble minds of Andy and Joe in the ring, we could vary things a bit. Round One: Sonnets. Round Two: Haiku. Round Three: the Elegy. Then, the following rounds would variously require the combatants to battle each other with the forms of epic poetry, blank verse, the ballad, the Villanelle, the Sestina, and then a final climactic round of limericks. Even the most anti-poetic members of the Bowl’s audience will want to stick around for the Limericks.
Of course no professional wrestler uses his or her real name, so I’d leave it up to Mitchell and Kozma to come up with their own unique titles. But, in case these two great minds come up blank I would toss out a few suggestions: Stanza Man! The Couplet Crusher! Sandburg’s Revenger! Longfellow’s Nightmare! The Quatrain from Hell!
Any wrestler worth his tights has groupies and I think this can be arranged. There’s often a motley crowd of heavy thinkers who hang around Our Town Books under Andy’s tutelage and Doctor Joe surely has legions of past patients who’d gladly slap on fan t-shirts and scream out his arrival as he stalks down the steps of The Bowl in a cloud of artificial fog, with “Hit Me With Your Best Shot!” blaring in the background.
In short, I think this is a workable idea. I mean, if a town can be known for Ferris wheels then full contact poetry shouldn’t be out of the question. Name me another town that features this type of entertainment? The Great Verse-Off? Bring it on! Bring it on!