When Marsh Muirhead spoke about the debate that took place at the Great American Think-Off Saturday night, he was very complimentary of his fellow debaters, the staff of the New York Mills Cultural Center and the audience.
"They seemed to be an astute crowd and many of the people there are 'groupies' who come every year from the Cities and Fargo," said Muirhead. "They study the questions and come well-prepared."
Doug Wilhide and Muirhead were the first presenters of the debate question, "Does Poetry Matter?" When it came time for the jury to ask questions, each presenter needed to think on his feet and quickly present a cogent answer.
"I didn't want to blow my best answers early so I had these zingers," Muirhead said. "In our society today, many people are spectators looking upon life as a series of problems to be solved, whereas the poet always looks at life as a mystery to be experienced."
"And then I had my Paul Harvey moment," he said. "I said, 'Who is the greatest influence in childhood's literature in this country? He has written 46 of the best hardcover books for children. He writes exclusively in the poetic form of anapestic tetrameter (which has four anapestic metrical feet per line, with each foot having two nonstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable) and National Reading Day is celebrated on his birthday - Dr. Suess.'"
Dr. Suess is actually along the line of other rhyming poets and writers who teach children how to form words and sentences, Muirhead said, noting that kids live in a pre-literature culture in that they can't read or write; they live in nursery rhymes - that's why they like them so much. They have a natural sense of childhood rhythm, Muirhead explained to the audience.
The debaters who took the opposite view (Bob Levine and Mahmood Tabadoor), that poetry does not matter, revolved their argument around the opinion that poetry no longer matters to society because we are more decadent and we don't read as much as we used to. They understood that poetry had a great deal of value, but they felt it is less relevant to society today because of the speed and brevity of our conversations.
The jury and the audience who actually voted for the winner felt that every debater was extremely well-read and it was one of the more eloquent debates they have had because everyone presented his argument well. At the end of the evening, Marsh Muirhead was awarded first prize, a gold medal with Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker" sitting upon a tractor.
"In getting people's votes, it's good to give a few funny lines and pull at their heartstrings," said Muirhead.
Between the presentations and the voting, a reception was held with libations. Muirhead said he told the audience, "We can continue the conversation at the reception or in our homes, but know this: 'Some of us drink because we are poets and others because we are not.'"