William Kemp

Legendary wrestling commentator Jim Ross

The poem “Boomer Sooner” appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of The Puritan. As part of The Town Crier’s Author Notes series, William Kemp gives us a glimpse into the making of the piece.

“Boomer Sooner” is a found poem comprised (almost) entirely of lines spoken by legendary wrestling commentator Jim Ross on commentary—a few lines are from backstage interviews and one is from a tweet, but the rest were shouted emphatically by Ross in the halcyon days of the WWE (then WWF)’s “Attitude Era” and his time with the NWA and WCW.

This is all to say that I am a 28-year-old man who likes wrestling and poetry and who constantly questions why, exactly, he is a 28-year-old man who likes wrestling and poetry.

It is 2016 and literally everyone in the world knows that wrestling is fake—babies come out of the womb knowing this fact. As many a grown-ass Millennial, I was slightly too young for the “Golden Era” of wrestling (the 1980s to the early 1990s, with your Hogans, Savages, The Brain Heenans, and what have you). “The Attitude Era” (roughly late 1996/97 to 2001) of wrestling was my jam because it was mainstream and cool. Like many a grown-ass Millennial, I had a falling out with wrestling somewhere around the mid-2000s because I had severe anxiety about self-worth and coolness; wrestling was not cool and boy was I stupid because wrestling has never been cool. I stopped caring about being cool—as if writing poetry wasn’t your first clue—and got back into wrestling somewhere in my late teens.

After all, what two things seem to be more diametrically opposed than the ‘high art’ of poetry and the not-even-low but ‘carny art’ of rasslin’?

It first started as a subversive, “I’m so cool I’m going to do uncool things like watch wrestling, but only wrestling from Japan because I’m an asshole,” and eventually blossomed into an appreciation for not only the quality of matches regardless of country of origin, but story and character again. That eventually blossomed into a strange love-hate relationship with wrestling that’s deeply rooted in masculinity and self-worth, which became the “project” I’m working on (because everyone, of course, is working on a project). “Boomer Sooner” is part of this project that tries to tackle my love and hate of language and wrestling—two things that I’ve finally come to realize lately have shaped my life quite a bit.

Jim Ross was the voice of wrestling in, without question, its most popular time, the Attitude Era. If you have seen any wrestling in your life whatsoever, there is a 99.99999 percent chance that Jim Ross called that match. If you’ve watched any compilations of people wiping out on YouTube, there is a 99.99999 percent chance that someone has dubbed it over with Jim Ross commentary, because that shit is hilarious.

In working through this “project” and this poem, as with any found poem, I’m trying to deconstruct what can be considered poetry. After all, what two things seem to be more diametrically opposed than the “high art” of poetry and the not-even-low but “carny art” of rasslin’? Not only that, I wanted to deconstruct the art of a wrestling promo. I want to posit that wrestling and poetry are fucking silly and great, and maybe there is something weirdly poetic in the language of wrestling, even when it’s awful and makes no sense. To me, art is interesting when it’s stuck somewhere in the middle of two extremes. That’s to say that I’ve tried, and hopefully succeeded, in simultaneously celebrating the beautiful, downright poetic language of a wrestling promo as much as I lambast wrestling for how inane and fucking stupid it is.

And, again, Jim Ross is “the voice” of wrestling, a legend who’s been calling matches since well before I became a fan, with a Midwestern drawl whose voice and words had the power to etch moments into my tiny kid brain—which I still have, because I like wrestling—forever. And yet, taken out of context, these words can sound absolutely fucking stupid. Even with all the context in the world they can sound absolutely fucking stupid. But there’s something wonderful to that. There is, to me, something fascinating in not only the time and place in which a bespectacled man with a cowboy hat and a Midwestern drawl screamed “STONE COLD STONE COLD STONE COLD” until his voice went hoarse, but also in those words completely removed from that time and place.

Found poetry becomes interesting to me when it tries to create something new without entirely relying on the context of its original source material—when the text takes on a life of its own. In researching this poem—read: watching a lot of YouTube clips and old stuff on the WWE Network—it came to quickly be much more meticulous than I had anticipated.

That eventually blossomed into a strange love-hate relationship with wrestling that’s deeply rooted in masculinity and self-worth …

This was a found poem after all, but there is still intention behind it. That intention was to revel in the absurdity of the voice of wrestling, Jim Ross, removed from the context of the iconic moments he announced, whilst simultaneously trying to find the poetic and beautiful in this absurdity. It maybe comes to the conclusion that it can be almost impossible to separate the poetic and the beautiful and that’s kind of fucking rad.

I was also asked in my work—“in my work,” oh God, I sound the worst, and not because of the question, but referring to this as “my work”—what the balance between silliness and seriousness is. Though it is blatantly obvious that I tend toward the lulz, I am also deadly serious about this because I am absolutely fascinated by wrestling not only for my own selfish, narcissistic reasons, but by the impact it and other lowbrow forms of pop culture have on our lexicon. I’d argue that many more people quote “roody-poo candy-ass” than “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond/any experience,your eyes have their silence” and that is hilarious, tragic, and great.

To me, it is important to be deadly serious about this kind of dumb thing because it may not be so dumb if beauty can be found in the words of Macho Man Randy Savage. I guess, more importantly, I personally can’t distinguish what is serious from what is silly and why the two things need to be so opposed—or, I suppose, I took the question to assume that I’d speak as if the two things are opposed. But that, to me, is boring. What’s fun and interesting to me, and not just in this project but in poetry, is not only using my English degree for a purpose, using some cool metaphors with line breaks, and talking about Stuff That Really Matters™, but stepping back for a moment and deflating the big fat ego of poetry a little bit. I love poetry and it is great to be serious about it, but at some point, being so serious about it gets to be a bit of a wank-fest and that’s no fun. For me, there’s fun to be had in smashing two seemingly opposed things together and seeing what fits and what doesn’t, and revelling just as much in how things fit together as how they don’t.

William Kemp is a co-founder of words(on)pages, a Toronto-based micropress and super-duo that publishes seasonal chapbooks, a bi-monthly literary magazine called (parenthetical), runs the reading series words(on)stages, and facilitates the occasional workshop. His work has been published by untethered magazineIn/Words Magazine, and online by The Hart House Review. His writing on video games can be found at First Person Scholar. Follow him @fakewillkemp to see pictures of his dog.

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