It's a game for men with rage in them, real rage, buried underneath somewhere," Galway Kinnell was saying as he gazed serenely upon "the constant tearing down and building up," "the shattering contact," "the pure destruction" going on before him on New York's West Side Saturday night. "It's a great game for poets," he said, which is what Kinnell is during the daytime.
Bowling. Yes, he was talking about bowling. Bowling, as the press release put it, for scholars. High atop the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan's Mid-City Bowling Lanes, about 400 people gathered for The Famous Writers Bowling Tournament, a $25-a-ticket fund- and consciousness-raising event for The Writers Community, a non-tuition, non-degree, advanced writing program based in New York.
"I get real pleasure out of it," said George Plimpton, the writer also known as Mr. Intellivision, of the sport. "It's great therapy, good fun. I even wanted to do it full-time once, to go on the tour, to write about it."
"To me it is like writing," said Paula Carson, who described herself as a "yet-undiscovered, yet-unpublished, but-you-wait-and-see I'll be a famous writer someday.
"You have to keep doing it over and over again. Once you think you've done it -- you knock 'em all down -- there they are again. Just like rewriting paragraphs. Hemingway would have gone for it, I bet, had they had bowling alleys in the Himalayas or wherever the hell he was."
"I like the shoes," said Edward Hoagland, the writer.
The Writers Community is "an alternative to grad school, with its boring classes and high tuition," said director and co-founder Laurel Blossom (real name). Blossom said she decided to have the fund-raiser in a bowling alley because "writers don't have much money and this is something they can relate to."
And so the familiar Brunswick Automatic Changers, just 75 yards down the wood from the Lustre King Custom Ball Conditioner, were worn out by teams with names like "Reportage," "Fiction," "Poetry," "Newsweek," "NBC," "Redbook," "Time-Life Books Inc.," "Macmillan Publishing Co.," "HBO" and "D.C. Comics." (A few representatives of corporations like "Exxon," "Con Edison" and "A.M.F. Inc." were there to bowl as well.) The antiquated speaker system blared antiquated music, and that inimitable explosive sound of huge black balls spilling white pins across lanes was a steady, welcome chorus. Every now and then, there was a tremble in the floor as another bus pulled in below.
"There is real energy in these places, you know it?" said Plimpton, tall and thin in a red short-sleeved bowling shirt. "There is constant motion, constant excitement. It's a good place to be, and I think everyone should bowl once a week."
Over on lane No. 1, Betsy Von Furstenberg (not Diane, not Egon, but Egon's sister), dressed in a black cashmere V-necked sweater, was daintily watching a gutter ball follow its course. David Dukes, who is preparing to take a principal role in "Amadeus," was bowling on the Poetry Team, and according to him, "tearing 'em up."
There were other celebrities who were invited but did not show, like talk-show host Dick Cavett and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner ("I don't think I was tough enough on them," said Blossom). But Andy Warhol did send his Designer Bowling Ball and when Plimpton held it aloft, the paparazzi flooded him with flashes as if some new definite statement was being made at the Mid-City Lanes.
"These aren't the type of people we usually have in here," said Eddie Rawlings, the 31-year-old shoe manager at Mid-City, who added he had to "run down" two people who were headed out the door with his bowling shoes on their feet. "Those shoes don't cost nearly as much as the two pairs they were leaving. Now why would they want to do that? Leave these fancy shoes and take bowling shoes? They must have liked the colors or something."
Most of the 300 to 400 spectators watched Kinnell and Plimpton, whose teams were just lanes apart. Kinnell, in particular, seemed to enjoy his Saturday night bowling.
"This is the first time I have approached a bowling alley in 35 to 40 years," said Kinnell.
"Well, that's not surprising," said onlooker Sarah Brown Weitzman, a poet, too. "You're one of the most famous poets in America. Where would you find the time to bowl?"
"Thank you, Sarah," said Kinnell. "To continue, though, I must tell you I do have a connection to bowling. When I was a boy of 11 or 12, I worked in a duckpin bowling alley in Rhode Island setting up the pins. There weren't any automatic changers, so kids like me had to do the resetting. My memories are of spoiled adults who behaved like kids. They came in there, most of them full of rage, slammed the balls down the alley and got mad if we didn't reset them fast enough. I always felt like their mother, you know, resetting these pins for these men who didn't even really understand why they were there smashing these pins. In my eyes, they were ridiculous, and I sort of despised them. Always having to mother them, pick up their pins. Disgusting. That's probably the reason I haven't gone near a bowling alley in years, because of those oafs in Rhode Island. But tonight, I'm really enjoying this. I may even write a poem about bowling."
Kinnell, the re-born bowler/poet, then went for the spare. And got it.
"Awwwwww riiiiight!" he yelled.
At night's end, when the tally was tallied, the corporations smothered the literati. Newsweek finished first with a combined score of 869, Columbia Pictures finished second, NBC third and Exxon fourth.
"Well, all our celebrities didn't show," said Blossom, "but we raised $16,000 and people dressed up and had fun. It was sort of a different Saturday night in New York, don't you think?"