There’s a palpable buzz in town today. People suspect something big may occur. I figure they’ve heard the loud voices coming from the Selection Committee room. But there’ve been other happenings. Among them:
-Several mysterious writer figures have booked into the Grand Hotel.
-The Poetry community, practitioners of the art who’ve taken up residence in the area, have undergone a change in mood. Initially euphoric that one of their number was the second name chosen, they’ve now dropped, as is their nature, to the other extreme. Speculation exists that it’ll be many seeds before another poet makes the brackets. I’ve heard grumbling. “Where’s Eliot?” they’ve asked. “At least Eliot! Or Poe? How can you leave out Poe?” I don’t tell them that Poe’s entry, when it occurs, will have more to do with his fabulous stories than his poetry.
-The poets are especially ticked-off at sudden rumors that T.S. Eliot isn’t even American! (More about that controversy upcoming.)
-At the same time, a coffeeshop is poised to open at the end of the main street. Poetry advocates have been seen inside, directing workmen. There’ve been arguments about where to place the tables. Poets, as is their nature, seldom agree about anything. The poets must see the coffeeshop as a way to lobby for their kind. Poets have been known to host impromptu readings at such places.
-The Big Four have been conveniently sent out of town to scout for pine trees. Good American pine will be needed to construct the outdoor arena in which the matches will take place. Before they left, Herman Melville was seen to duck quickly back into the Grand Hotel, possibly to see one of the new visitors. All is speculation! Then the four left. Hemingway was grinning, impossibly happy to be with his new compatriots. They’re supposed to locate tracts of pine, but word in town is that instead they’ve gone hunting and fishing.
-Some of the writers– Joyce Carol Oates among them– have located an exercise room in the basement of the old hotel. I dropped in to take a look. It’s not at all like a modern gym, but instead has equipment last used in the 19th century– dumbbells and boxing gloves. When I glanced around I saw Mary McCarthy, or someone who looked like Mary McCarthy, using the heavy gloves to punch out a silhouette of Lillian Hellman. Oates watched, egging the burgundy-haired woman on. “Bunny” Wilson the lit critic– an extreme longshot to make the event– stood by as well.
-Emily D, overwhelmed by the excitement of past days, has taken to her room. She’s assured me through her new friend, Sylvia Plath, that she’ll be back as guest commentator as soon as she’s able.
-In the meantime we’ve been forced to take on as Emily’s temporary replacement, Norman Mailer. He must sense that he’ll not be chosen in the next few brackets, and so has time on his hands, is eager for any way to gain the spotlight. (Also upset that the “OPA! protesters have switched their attention to the Big Four instead of him.) Or, as he explained to me,
“I reluctantly concluded that with the inevitable reaction against maleness, of which I’m of course the embodiment, as well as being the essentially pre-eminent literary figure of his time, I, Mailer, caught in this really predictable and shitty existential crisis of identity, this primordial mentality truly American, American-ness sense of existential angst– dread, dread!– the mountains of critical response to this figure Mailer who’s always stood independently for this instinctively pure essence of writer, I say essence because it’s so anally basic, this maw of warm shit excreting itself from the corpus of the art, the community, expressing itself against this symbol of male willness, I, Mailer. . . .”
This isn’t what he said exactly. I’m giving a shortened facsimile. If I were to post his full explanation for why he’s signed on as a substitute commentator, I wouldn’t have enough space.
Even Mailer senses the electricity in the streets. That something, as early as tonight, is about to break. We hope to be able to give a report, as well as an announcement of the #2 seeds, within the next several days.