Nobel Prize accolade for ‘The greatest slam poet of his generation, who sure knew how to deliver a punch line!’
STOCKHOLM – Following its shock 2016 Literature Nobel Prize award to folk singer Bob Dylan, the Nobel committee today granted a “a special posthumous literary award” to the late Muhammad Ali, author of the immortal “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” and other frequently quoted lines.
According to Ms or Mr Odd Zschiedrich, administrative director of the Swedish Academy, the former heavyweight champion won “for creating new poetic expressions within the great American chest-beating tradition at boxing weigh-ins.”
“This includes Rocky Marciano’s 1957 classic, ‘I’ll moider da bum,’ and Leon Spinks’ spontaneously plaintive, ‘Oy vey.’”
The director went on to recite, in a flutey, reverential voice, what he called “Mr Ali’s evocative quasi-Keatsian reverie”:
When I got to Africa,
I had one hell of a rumble.
I had to beat Tarzan’s behind first,
For claiming to be King of the Jungle!
“Kindly note,” Odd continued, “the delicately masterful half-rhyme, rumble/jungle. It’s a typically Aliesque linguistic maneuver, deployed whenever he couldn’t immediately come up with an exact phoneme [rhyme — Ed.], although of course he was fully capable of it later in his visionary and indeed prophetically dystopian.”
It will be a Killer,
And a chiller,
And a thrilla.
When I get the gorilla
“This last poem,” the director said, “is an extraordinary example of Mr Ali’s brilliant way of rhyming. putting together refrains, and his brilliant way of thinking.” His work compares favorably with Bob Dylan’s, since both poets “span the entire English-language tradition, from high to low, from black to white.”
However, Ali’s subsequent “linguistic ventures,” Odd said, “operate on a higher semiological plane, speaking in a quasi-Lacanian, if not to say, Derridian sense.” Ali’s lyrical transformations of American “street jive,” for example, includes the searing stanza:
Clay comes out to meet Liston
And Liston starts to retreat,
If Liston goes back an inch farther
He’ll end up in a ringside seat!
…which is later “spiritually transliterated into the extraordinarily arrogant and yet endearing…”
My face is so pretty;
you don’t see a scar,
Which proves I’m the king of the ring by far.
Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine, praised the Nobel committee’s decision. “People who only experience poetry on the page might dissent,” he said, “but this Nobel award is a way of bringing it all back home, of both reminding us of poetry’s roots and moving it forward through changing times.”
“Ali is the brilliant inheritor of the martial tradition. Great choice,” added fellow Nobel laureate, Salman Rushdie, on his Twitter feed.