Sep 23, 2009

Poem for a Day: "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio" by James Wright





















Friday night lights: high school football players “gallop terribly” against each other, both the arty, abstract version (or is it just a bad photo?) and plain old family album realism.










You can find James Wright’s poem at poetryfoundation.org:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=177228

I’ll try to make this the last Wright poem for a long while. But it is now officially autumn, and I did see part of a high school game last Friday. Moreover, I grew up in or near towns like Martins Ferry on the Ohio River—often as not, steel and coal towns.

An obvious question arises: can serious art center on football or other sports?

Before you offer your final answer, the answer you must stand by for the rest of your life, you might want to watch the documentary film, Go, Tigers, which centers on another Ohio team, the Massillon High Tigers of 1999. Massillon’s is a legendary program, like those in Pennsylvania or Odessa, Texas. I think Go, Tigers succeeds in the way any serious work about sports must succeed: it makes itself about more than the sport itself—sport as metaphor, sport as vehicle, sport as revelation of character, sport as sociology, politics, even art. Maybe I could argue that this film and this poem are also about England, India, and China--anywhere the children of industrial centers, large or small, try to find their way.

If you hate organized sports, especially at the high school level, Go, Tigers should both challenge and confirm your thinking. So too might “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio,” and it’s a lot shorter and easier to get to.

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16 comments:

Jeff M said...

Great poem. One of my favorites. Good timing, Banjo, in putting this up.

BANJO52 said...

Thanks, Jeff. From the Ohio River Life blog a while back, I remember that Martins Ferry and East Liverpool play each other (before too long). Maybe I need more hobbies?

Karen said...

While we're talking about whether or not athletics can or can't be good fodder for art, let's talk about Hoosiers, which I still believe is one of the best movies ever. Love it - sports as a vehicle for personal redemption? YES.

altadenahiker said...

Art -- I'd be hard-pressed to come up with any area that is off limits.

I do wonder about your qualification, however. Serious art? As opposed to ... what? Foolish art? Mid-level art? Bad art, good art, best art?

BANJO52 said...

AH, Yeah, those last 3 or 4 you mention. Sometimes the lines get blurry, I realize, but as a tedious, straight-laced Midwesterner (and I’ve also been called the opposite of that), I don’t think Rod McKuen and James Wright belong in the same discussion. Well, maybe Wright could give McKuen a run in song writing?

Hallmark cards vs. Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keefe, and a host of others?

Lawrence Welk vs. any major city symphony or Leonard Cohen?

Comic books vs. Moby Dick . . .

Mother Goose vs. Shakespeare?

Pat Robertson vs. Neitzsche? Or to be a little fair, pat Robertson
vs. Paul Tillich? Oral Roberts vs. Confucius?

And if “classical” is the key word, then we run into problems with Classical vs. Romantic. Hence “serious,” with all its attendant flaws.

Something tells me I’m missing the point . . .

But we do have the problems of paintings by monkeys and elephants (correct?) being sold as "serious" art. The part of me that's a New Critic quivers.

altadenahiker said...

I never considered McKuen, Hallmark, or Pat Robertson artists. So are you including anyone who has attempted a poem, a book, or a drawing? I didn't.

Slowmo said...

"Art" is one of those words we fling around almost without thinking. Perhaps we should be more careful with it. On the other hand go ahead and fling. Chances are the conversation has at least a passing reference to what I consider one of many definitions of "Art," that is, man's effort to create something that cast us out into something large, perhaps even transcendent. Oh well, enough of that for today.
Love that poem Banjo.

BANJO52 said...

Karen, I agree, Hoosiers makes a good comparison here.

How would you feel about elaborating on your word "redemption"? It's one of those large, large words. I think I see and agree with where you're taking it, but I'm not sure.

BANJO52 said...

AH, once again the question of definition rears its ugly, interesting head. How bad does bad art have to be before it becomes No Art?

The responses so far are very open-minded and all to the effect that art exists in the execution, rather than, or more than, the subject. That sounds right.

Why then do I hear voices from my past screaming that we shouldn't dare--and neither should Wright et al--perceive high school sports on the same platform with Homer or Hamlet? Have I just known too many snobs? Those voices--am I hallucinating, or were they, are they real?

BANJO52 said...

Slowmo, I love that definition too. I wonder if some feel it over-glorifies humanity. Maybe we don't deserve to be cast large. And transcendent? Who do we think we are?

Dare I reveal enough pompous teacher left in me to say that this is what Joseph Wood Krutch had in mind in "The Tragic Fallacy": unlike man in the Classical or Elizabethan world views, Marx, Freud, modern science and so forth don't allow us to be significant enough to rise to a height from which to fall. So we can no longer be tragic (or transcendent), only pathetic. (I hope I'm being fair to Krutch--and I think that essay was in the 1920s!).

And now we also have Raymond Carver and the minimalists, plus the dadaists and nihilists and probably more than one Lost Generation, all telling us where to go. (Think "Down" and "South" and "the drain"). I doubt any of them would accept transcendance as a destination . . .

What do we say back to them?

Sincerely,
Banjo The Cheerful

Jeff M said...

Banjo,
Instead of referring your readers to sites where the poem you're talking about can be read, you should just post them on your site. It's more effective and enjoyable that way. Just a thought.

altadenahiker said...

I think these guys are on to something: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9OCS08rabE

BANJO52 said...

Jeff, I'd love to do that, but I don't know what copyright laws are. After reading just a little about them, I don't think anyone knows.

BANJO52 said...

AH, the Cook and Moore, such good stuff, even though I can't keep up with the British accents as well as I used to. What's better than seeing two deadpan pros crack each other up?

Jeff M said...

I don't see how you could be subject to any criminal prosecution if you give it the proper identification and citation.

BANJO52 said...

I think Jeff has to be correct. Does anyone out there KNOW how such things work? Also, Banjo is not exactly the Bernie Madoff of the blogosphere . . .

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