Saturday, 2 October 2010

Back to Wrestling

After years of not going to wrestling tonight we went again, the venue being just ten minutes walk from home. One of my current MA students is a wrestler as well as a poet and we were hoping to see him, but when we arrived he told us he was off the bill. The venue was in fact the Leisure Centre, the main hall where people normally play table tennis or badminton or netball or basketball or practice climbing. It has broad general lighting, nothing special for the ring, set up for the occasion.

There is a long history to this that I have written about before. Briefly, one time I was going to write a novel about a wrestler so I went to wrestling, spoke to wrestlers and promoters, wrote articles and even poems, but the novel eluded me. Not because of wrestling but because of the novel form. That's by the by, for now.

Returning to wrestling after several years I am struck again by its nakedness and rawness. There is a kind of poetry to it, but it's one that employs a very small vocabulary of some fifty words, if that. That's not to disqualify it as poetry because folk poetry, broadsides, ballads, spells and curses work on small vocabularies too. The vocabulary in the case of wrestling would involve some technical terms for holds, throws and general moves, some words for the range of characters involved, the blue-eyes and heels of various hues, and the words used by the spectators: Rip his head off! Break his arm! Get up! Don't let him beat you! Cheat! Who are you!? and a small range beyond that.

The contest began with an eight-man tag match between four 'Italians' and four 'Brits'. There were chants of Where's your pizza?! and Ingerlund! The Italian angle brought home the grand opera element. In summer we saw Don Giovanni performed by puppets in Prague: there is something of it in English wrestling, an arte povera of masque without masks.

Is it brutal? Absolutely. That is the idea, but it is shadows of brutality we are watching, and the strongly working class crowd - half of them children - suspend their disbelief in it for as long as it pleases. I say opera, but it's just as much circus, funfair, Punch and Judy, and allegory.

The allegory is simple. The bad often win. The referee / judge is blind. The good, with whom you identify, are guaranteed nothing but your fervent support. That's life. Your fury, your powerlessness, your inarticulacy is articulated by these gesturing, nimble, energetic tumbling windbags, vandals, furies and buffoons who are, at the same time, heroes and demons.

Ancient stuff. Slightly terrifying, slightly cosy, slightly daemonic. The poetry of the slap in the face, of the matchbox soaking in the rain.

Left at the interval from sheer exhaustion. C with mother all day, cooking, cleaning, arranging, persuading and worrying, then driving back 90 miles. Sorry to miss the properly heroic Sweet Saraya more than anything, the first female wrestler we saw those years ago in London. Still lithe and dark, with her whole wrestling family.

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