by Neal Kitterlin.
Poetry and fantasy football are both elevators and equalizers when it comes to the moment. Whereas in real life we assign outsized import to certain milestones — weddings, deaths, birthdays, the first job, the selection of a college, the passage from childhood into adulthood, or at least whatever cultural ritual we choose to symbolize these, poets often train their eyes elsewhere. While certainly there are plenty of poems that, whether awkwardly or gracefully, honor these moments, a poet is just as, or perhaps even more likely, to draw attention to some random moment of personal significance or interest to the poet.
Tao Lin’s flat style and affect tends to privilege no moment and each moment simultaneously. Moments of discomfort or boredom are given equal room to breathe with moments of beauty or elation, and there is no discernible judgment made by Lin as to the value of these moments. In poems such as “That night with the green sky,” even existential pain or rejection, subjects that are often overwrought, are presented without much kick and with plenty of indecisive wiggle – “Why did you want me gone?/That hurts/Why?/Why?/I don’t know/Some things can’t be explained, I guess/The sky, for example, was green that night”.
Dorothea Lasky, on the other hand, has a frank and hard-hitting style that elevates the ordinary by making you feel that every moment is on fire, not just the ones that we typically fool ourselves into believing are somehow special. In “Death and Sylvia Plath,” Lasky points out a specific moment to the point of time-stamping it directly, playing up both its transitory nature and eternal existence – “It is Spring/I am not you/Nor do I want to be/It is 2:21 on 2/21/2010/I am not alive/No, I am no longer breathing/I don’t live in this world/I already live in the other one”.
In the microcosmos that is a standard NFL game, there are typical moments that are elevated and celebrated – kickoff, lead-changing scores, plays displaying great athletic skill, extraordinarily hard hits (these are now celebrated with a cognitive dissonance that is so interesting it probably deserves its own full-length exploration elsewhere), game-winning drives, and the ceremonial taking of a knee by the triumphant team after the outcome is decided. But in fantasy football, moments that are of little or no interest to a non-fantasy fan can take on critical import.
For example, in the crowded 14-team league I participate in, because of poor drafting, injury and matchup considerations, I started Jay Cutler last weekend (I own three quarterbacks in that league – Terrelle Pryor, Ben Roethlisberger and Cutler). Indeed, I am slowly learning that in larger leagues (I’m accustomed to eight-teamers) you sometimes have to do crazy things like carry three underperforming QBs or start Darrius Heyward-Bay. Cutler, as he is wont to do, stunk up Ford Field and basically, along with a porous defense who seemed completely unprepared for Reggie Bush, handed the Lions an easy victory.
Yet in losing, after the outcome of the game was pretty much beyond doubt, Cutler started heaving the ball around the field, racking up some decent yards and a pair of late, meaningless touchdowns against a relatively unconcerned Lions defense. These late heroics – to the extent that the always-apathetic appearance of Cutler can be properly matched with that word – were not celebrated by pure Bears fans. In fact, they were more likely to be scorned, i.e., why can’t this guy do this when it matters? But for me, those late TD throws were reason to cheer, as fantasy points racked up in late-game junk time, a period which is almost like a half-asleep liminal zone between actual competitive professional football and a pre-season contest or pick-up game, count just the same as those gained in the most critical moment of the game.
Most fantasy owners have tales of garbage time moments that either propelled them to victory or doomed them to defeat. Meaningless yards gained by Maurice Jones-Drew in a Monday night contest once lost me a first-round playoff bye – I lost by the razor-thin margin of half-a-point. But truly, even these moments are assigned an unearned importance, as every yard gained or point scored counts exactly the same in fantasy no matter the context in which it is tallied (which is why owners who always want to have someone starting on Monday night are infuriatingly wrong – you put your best lineup out there no matter when they play, except for Thursday night games, where the short turn-around time often leads to sloppy and uninspired play). In fantasy football, every play in which your player is involved is important (as is the number of plays in which he is involved), but no play is more important than another within the context of a game. A yard is a yard is a yard.
Now, some quick sit and start advice for the upcoming Week 5. Start any and all Denver WRs and TE Julius Thomas. In most prolific offenses there is usually an odd man out somewhere, on a game by game basis, but Manning is seemingly performing a loaves and fishes act this season, producing gaudy numbers for everyone beyond what seems possible for a mere sixty minutes of football. Start Kenbrell Thompkins. Start Darren Sproles. Start Michael Vick over whoever it is you drafted ahead of him, unless that person is Manning, Brees, or maybe Rodgers. Treat Phillip Rivers the same way. Feel my heart break a little as I tell you to sit C.J. Spiller (even if he is active after his injury). Sit everyone connected with the New York Giants except Victor Cruz – you can start him. Continue to start the Kansas City defense – they are real. Think about sitting the Houston Texans defense if you have a better matchup available – the 49ers are radioactively unpredictable right now, a Schrodinger’s team that is simultaneously good and terrible until their game is observed. And whatever you do, check over your lineups and sit anyone who has a bye – if you don’t, you are disrespecting your opponent, your league, and yourself.