Wrestling Starting Position

Yesterday Winthrop Smith, a poet residing in a small town in Maine, drew my attention to his blog, Wrestling Starting Position, an intriguing project, begun a year ago, that he is developing into a book-length poem centered on wrestling and the homoerotic allure of combat arts. Each numbered chapter consists of seven quatrains of seven-syllable lines, which begin with vivid sense impressions relating to wrestling and the life style that has built up around it on the Internet, and then they expand, drawing on profiles and remarks found on online wrestling-matchup sites and memories of Winston's experiences growing up in New England. 

Smith has published three previous books of poetry--Ghetto (1990), The Weigh-In (a republication of Ghetto along with the previously unpublished poem Hard Surfaces, 1996), and Skin Check (2006)--which explore in blunt, minimalist language his memories of pre-Giuliani New York City and wrestling in junior high, among varied other sensations captured in snapshot glimpses.

The lines are elliptical, not strictly narrative, not traditionally lyrical, but they capture the vigor and grunt-and-groan intensity of wrestling and a sexuality tinged with lust for tough, manly body contact. Here's an excerpt to try on for size:

          Dude who's hungry to battle,
          Bang or grapple, submission,
          Knock out, choke until tap out;

          Are you handy? A gem. Needs
          Work. A contractor's dream. A
          Steal. Needs upgrading, heating.
          Old. Original. Rustic.

          I've competing, conflicting
          Interests, rivals can teach me,
          Categories confining,
          Want a fuck? You just say so;

          Looks won't matter. Connection.
          Spark? He thinks. Endless banter.
          Intellectual bandwidth
          Fueling fires between us;

          High school swim star, now high school
          Coach, his laps at the Y in
          Speedo briefs, never jammers,
          Trains toward tournaments, time trials;

           I will go anywhere and
          Almost do anything so
          Let's surprise each the other,
          Not a doormat or daddy;

          Daily scrimmage toward goal posts.
          Lineup's faces change weekly.
          Tool lost. Someone calls timeout.
          Huddle. Forfeit's attrition;

This is sensuous but pithy stuff that catches my attention, gives my head something to play with, and then takes a sharp jab at my gut. I have only started exploring this blog, but already I feel caught in its spell.


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