In one corner it's poet Harryette Mullen, pushing and pulling the language like taffy. In the other is bear-like George Bilgere, champion of everyday speech. You can try, but you can't really root for both, unless you're magnanimous and full of holiday honey wine.
At the beginning of the evening you can't choose one drink and switch to another later on, no it's either mullened cider or bilge beer.
Yeah, both have seasoned cut-men, but Bilgere's got the likes of Billy Collins, John Barr and Ed Field, while Mullen's got everyone's attention. Both like to play with language, but it's either football or acrostics, you guess which.
Awards too. Mullen's "Sleeping with the Dictionary" (2002) was a National Book Award finalist. Bilgere's "Haywire" (2006) won the May Swenson Prize. Says Ed Field, the Swenson decider: "I wasn't interested in what I call the torturers of the language, who write without any relation to what and how we really speak."
We don't like torturers either, and he's not exactly calling Mullen one, but he's being polite by not naming names. He goes on: "[Bilgere] reclaims the language as it is spoken. This is American speech transmuted into poetry. And the struggle to do this must be repeated in every generation, to recapture poetry from the forces that want to neuter it."
We can appreciate Field's neuter conspiracy, but whose speech is Bilgere reclaiming? And whose speech is Mullen claiming to reclaim, or add to literature what hasn't been there before? Do we want nostalgia? Or do we want ad jingles?
And suddenly, as in a myth
or fairytale when the son
recognizes his lost father under the rags
of an old beggar, I realize
it's the kitchen table of our childhood. (from "The Table," p. 41)
Mullen spits back a mish-mash:
I beg to dicker with my silver-tongued companion, whose lips
are ready to read my shining gloss.
(from "Sleeping with the Dictionary," p. 67)
Maybe this isn't the greatest match-up. Maybe we should save our tickets and play the lottery instead. Now there's a conspiracy.