Apr 27, 2011

Back to Matthews and Casey

Cheap Seats - 94.12

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer : The Poetry Foundation [poem]

YouTube - Penn & Teller - "Casey At The Bat"

(The Penn & Teller piece is six minutes; they know they are an acquired taste, so they won't be offended if you don't watch it all. The poem starts at about Minute 3:00).

Apparently I lied about being finished with "Cheap Seats" and "Casey at the Bat" and attendant issues.

If Easter isn’t about heroism and dramatic moments, among other things, then what is it about? So I decided not to add these thoughts on William Matthews until Passover and Easter were in the rear view mirror. Why create Mudville out of a season of hope?

For context, let’s return briefly to the April 25 visitor comments. Barbaro and AH, I’m also wild about the poem’s “we had no result/three nights out of three: so we had heroes.” Heroes are heroes because the rest of are not.

Heroes are aware of the clock running down; they act precipitously and skillfully. That’s the drama of them—in the midst of time’s vanishing, they jump at the chance for decision, change, beauty, rightness, and therefore greatness.

In that context, what I hear Matthews offering is that we fans, audiences of all kinds, don’t want to face the fact (“at home” where there are “mirrors”) that most of our moments, including months-long or even years-long moments, have “had no result.” No win, no loss, just sleepwalking through another day if we’re lucky, finding our way to the hazy cheap seats if we're lucky.

That’s not a cheerful proposition, but maybe it bears more truth than notions I’ve heard about the heroism or greatness in all of us.

In turn, maybe that’s why we love war.

Footnote: for classroom discussions of various forms of heroism, I still like the question, “If a character sets out to be heroic, can he be heroic? Can heroism arise from intentional self-aggrandizement?"



Barbaro said...

Yes! I saw P&T do that live when I was a boy--maybe that accounts for my poss. uncharacteristic admiration for the poem. Much better than the sepulchral JEJ reading.

Sure, bluegrass is complex, but that's not why we love it. We love it because it's fun. Too, too often we're told (or tell ourselves) that what's fun can't be the same as what's good. I demur. To those among us strange enough to love classical music, it too is fun, no matter how many times the false populists try to pigeon-hole it as pretentious, or the snobs call it the only "serious" sound.

In the case of "Casey," I'd argue that the meter itself is virtuosic to the point that it carries the poem. If you insist, you can hunt up imagery, metonymy, careful diction, symbolism, all the other "important" things the academy tells us a poem has to have. But whole generations of academy poets have come and gone while "Casey" lives on.

Banjo52 said...

In addition to "fun" I'd say "stirring" for both classical and bluegrass when they're well done and they connect with us. So what we're debating is obviously subjective, and by our criteria today, we can agree about the music.

You're right about "Casey"'s staying power. But by that standard, Elizabeth B. Browning surpasses her husband and dozens, hundreds, of other poets who are surely superior artists. I agree that the meter in "Casey" "carries the poem." There's little else to carry it. :) Sorry. Couldn't resist.

More seriously, don't we need to be careful about creating a laundry list of poetic terms/devices and concluding that when a poem contains, say, nine of those, it's therefore a good poem?

For me, all "Casey" has is music (which is sometimes awkward and ALWAYS too loud) and crowd appeal. If the staying power of serious art is determined by mass appeal . . . if a democratic election determines greatness in poetry, then surely Shakespeare and Yeats must step aside for Mother Goose and Cat in the Hat?

Nest Paws???

PJ said...

Who would want to be in such a precarious position I wonder (I'm more of an anti-hero fan) so is it heroes, or is it the hero worship?

Lovers' Lane